Discovery of prostaglandins
The 1982 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was jointly awarded to Bengt I. Samuelsson, John R. Vane and Sune K. Bergstrom for the description of a completely new type of signaling molecule – prostaglandins – which defend cells against any sudden changes due to trauma.
Although it was known that certain bodily fluids contained substances, termed prostaglandins, that could affect local changes in cells and cause muscle contraction and relaxation, little was known about the nature of these molecules. In the 1950s Sune K. Bergstrom studied a number of animal models, including pigs and sheep, and was the first to isolate and characterise two types of prostaglandins, finding that they were composed of unsaturated fatty acids.
Through a series of experiments, some involving rats and guinea pigs, Bengt I. Samuelsson was able to chart the various stages in the metabolism of prostaglandins, and both he and John R. Vane described several different prostaglandins and their biological significance.
Vane showed that aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs take their action through inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, and several painkillers have since been designed to target prostaglandins specifically, providing effective pain relief for gallbladder and kidney stones, and for menstrual aches.