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It was a cold night in Boston, and the valets were taking forever, so two neurobiologists got to talking about a fitting topic: pain.

Bruce Bean and Dr. Clifford Woolf, both professors at Harvard Medical School, were vexed by the struggle to come up with viable new painkillers. The therapies of yesteryear dimmed pain but could cause numbness and immobility. Opiates could be addictive. There have been new kinds of painkillers, but they have come with safety and efficacy issues of their own.


“We just started talking about whether there was some novel way that we could selectively target pain-sensing neurons,” Bean said, and the two parted ways with a mutual challenge.

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