STOCKHOLM — The 2021 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine has been awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.
The two US-based scientists received the accolade for describing the mechanics of how humans perceive hot, cold, touch and pressure through nerve impulses.
Julius is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Patapoutian is a professor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California.
“Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival and underpins our interaction with the world around us,” the Nobel Assembly said in a statement announcing the prize.
The discoveries will be vital to the development of treatments for chronic pain and other conditions, said Professor David Paterson, president of The Physiological Society in the United Kingdom.
“How we sense the temperature, touch and movement are some of the great questions for humanity,” Paterson said.
Thomas Perlmann, the secretary general of the Nobel Assembly, said the discovery “unlocks the secrets of nature … It explains at a molecular level how these stimuli are converted into nerve signals. It’s an important and profound discovery.”
The starting point for the pair’s groundbreaking discoveries was Julius’ work with the humble chili pepper — or more specifically, capsaicin, the pungent compound that causes a burning sensation when we eat the peppers.
Patapoutian was born in Beirut, Lebanon, he earned his doctorate in biology from the California Institute of Technology in 1996 and joined the Scripps Research faculty in 2000 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California, San Francisco.
In 2017, he was named to the National Academy of Sciences. He has received many other honors and awards spanning two decades, including the 2019 Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research (also with David Julius). In addition to his work at Scripps Research, Patapoutian serves as an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.