From the Publisher
August 29, 2014
Nobody likes pain, but scientists investigating it say it is an important warning signal in our body about external risks, such as hot temperature, or internal problems. For example, chest pain may mean that your heart needs to be checked by a doctor as soon as possible. But there is also “bad,” chronic pain which, unlike “good” pain, may appear even when the underlying cause no longer exists.
People have tried to battle pain probably since the dawn of history. These efforts continue to this day. One of the leaders in this field is Katarzyna Starowicz-Bubak, a researcher from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Pharmacology in the southern city of Cracow and the manager of a project focusing on neuropathic pain. This issue of The Polish Science Voice carries an interview with Starowicz-Bubak. The interview is interesting, even for the non-expert, because it points to the complexity of the problem—a key challenge is ensuring that a drug is an effective painkiller while at the same time avoiding undesirable consequences. The Cracow project is not designed to produce a new drug, Starowicz-Bubak says, but to “show what systems, receptors and molecules can be influenced to heal and relieve pain.”
While some scientists are struggling to overcome nature, others want to emulate it—because in many ways nature eclipses technology. Take the sense of hearing, for example. Our brain can not only hear the sound reaching our ears, but also identify characteristics such as tone and intensity—and of course, the direction from which it is coming. Manmade devices that transmit sound are unable to do this as well as people. In order to mimic the way the human ear transmits information, however imperfectly, it is necessary to record separate sound sources using multiple microphones, and then play the recording using separate speakers. It turns out, however, that this quality of sound, allowing the listener to listen to individual musicians in an orchestra, for example, or a specific speaker during a teleconference, can be achieved in other, very effective, ways. Working on that is a group of Polish researchers and engineers led by Tomasz Żernicki in the western city of Poznań. They aim to build a new wireless sound recording system that will give the listener the impression of being in the concert—or conference—venue. The project is called AudioSense for short. Research and efforts to go commercial with the results of the project are expected to take three years. If an investor materializes, the new system may hit the market at the end of 2016.