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Candace B. Pert

David Jay Brown
Interviews Candace B. Pert

Candace B. Pert is a neuroscientist who conducted groundbreaking research that changed the way scientists view the relationship between mind and body. While still a graduate student in her mid-twenties at Johns Hopkins University in 1972, she discovered the opiate receptor, the molecular-docking site where drugs like opium and morphine bind to nerve cells in the human brain. This breakthrough finding lead to the discovery of endorphins–natural, painkilling opiate-like chemicals in the brain, which Dr. Pert refers to as “the underlying mechanism for bliss and bonding.” 

These findings dramatically increased our understanding of how drugs interact with the nervous system, and how the body and brain communicate with each other. Dr. Pert went on to discover numerous receptor sites for other drugs and naturally occurring substances in the brain, and she helped map the chemical communication system that operates between the brain and the immune system. This paved the way for an understanding of mind-body medicine and the biochemical basis for emotions. Dr. Pert has now spent over thirty years decoding the biochemical language of what she refers to as the body’s “information molecules”–such as peptides and other ligands–which regulate every biochemical aspect of human physiology. Her interdisciplinary model of the “bodymind” explains how these chemicals distribute information simultaneously to every cell in the body. This understanding has unlocked the secret of how our emotions can literally create or destroy our health. 

Many people believe that Dr. Pert should have won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of the opiate receptor–which is considered one of the most important discoveries in the history of neuroscience–but that internal politics interfered with her being properly recognized for her work. In this regard, it is important to note that Dr. Pert discovered the opiate receptor only after her supervisor had specifically ordered her to stop looking for it, concluding that it was a fruitless search, and Dr. Pert had to continue her research in secret. Her supervisor was later awarded the Lasker Award (an award for outstanding medical research) for its discovery without her. The story of Dr. Pert’s revolutionary discovery, the development of her research and the evolution of her philosophy, as well as the storm of controversy that formed around her work, is chronicled in her autobiography Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel (Scribner, 1997) which reads like an spellbinding action-adventure story, and offers a personal and insightful reinterpretation of neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Dr. Pert was featured in Washingtonian magazine as one of Washington’s fifty “Best and Brightest” individuals, and she was featured in Bill Moyers’s highly acclaimed PBS television series “Healing and the Mind”, as well as the companion book that went with the series. Dr. Pert created the cassette tape series Your Body Is Your Subconscious Mind, and is currently working on a psychoactive CD to enhance healing and personal transformation. She lectures extensively throughout the country about the implications of her research for mind-body medicine, and her work is helping to heal the pathological divisions in Western culture between mind and body, science and spirituality. “Finally, here is a Western scientist who has done the work to explain the unity of matter and spirit, body and soul!” wrote Deepak Chopra in the introduction to her book. To find out more about Dr. Pert’s work visit: www.candacepert.com

Dr. Pert received her Ph.D. in pharmacology, with distinction, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1974, and she conducted research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) from 1975 to 1987. She has held a variety of research positions with the National Institutes of Health, and served as Chief of the Section on Brain Biochemistry of the Clinical Neuroscience Branch of the NIMH. Dr. Pert left the NIMH in 1987 and founded a private biotech laboratory that she directed. Dr. Pert’s research interests have ranged from decoding “information molecules” to trying to find cures for

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