A brain researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has been awarded the $331,000 Bower Award, the nation's largest cash award for scientific work.
Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, 52, was chosen for the insights his work has produced into the workings of the brain, and for the boost it has given to the search for new drugs to treat a myriad of ailments involving the brain, including drug addiction.
The Bower Award is presented by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to the scientist who best embodies the "practical, entrepreneurial and humanitarian spirit of Benjamin Franklin."
Snyder, a psychiatrist and pharmacologist at Hopkins, was selected from among an international field of candidates. He is to receive the cash prize and a gold medal at a ceremony in Philadelphia in January.
After learning of the award yesterday, Snyder said he was "delighted and greatly honored. . . . Clearly an award of that magnitude is a pretty serious award."
Snyder came to Hopkins as a resident in psychiatry in 1968, specializing in pharmacology and experimental therapeutics.
According to a biography released by the Franklin Institute, Snyder and an associate, Candace Pert, in 1973 discovered the brain's opiate receptors -- the precise molecule on nerve cells in the brain that are designed to hook up with molecules of opium and derivatives such as morphine, heroin and codeine.
Two years later, it was discovered by John Hughes and Hans Kosterlitz that the brain has opiate receptors because it also has its own opiates, called enkephalins, which the body produces to relieve pain and stress.
Snyder said those discoveries led to the understanding that the brain's 10 billion neurons, or nerve cells, talk to each other by releasing chemicals called "neurotransmitters."
These chemical "constitute all of our information processing in the brain," he said. "The information has precision because each neurotransmitter is recognized by very specific receptor sites on the neurons."
Scientists have since identified most of the brain's neurotransmitters and receptors, and have used the knowledge to develop new drugs, which either mimic the neurotransmitters, or block their action.
Snyder is a co-founder and chairman of the scientific advisory board for Nova Pharmaceuticals in Baltimore, which specializes in developing drugs based on this new technology.
The discoveries have already allowed scientists to develop ways to experiment with prospective new drugs by testing their effects on nerve receptors held in test tubes, rather than on live laboratory animals.
Snyder is confident that the technology will lead to an effective treatment for drug addiction before the end of the decade.