David Julius, Ardem Patapoutian win 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch

The announcement was made by a panel at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.


David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian jointly won the 2021 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch. The first of the 2021 Nobel Prizes kicked off the week of announcements of the most coveted award.

“Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival and underpins our interaction with the world around us. In our daily lives we take these sensations for granted, but how are nerve impulses initiated so that temperature and pressure can be perceived? This question has been solved by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates,” the Nobel Assembly said.

David Julius of the University of California utilised capsaicin, a pungent compound from chilli peppers that induces a burning sensation, to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that responds to heat. Ardem Patapoutian, who is with Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Scripps Research, used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a novel class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs.

These breakthrough discoveries launched intense research activities leading to a rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimuli. The laureates identified critical missing links in our understanding of the complex interplay between our senses and the environment.

The announcement was made by a panel at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

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Last year’s prize went to three scientists who discovered the liver-ravaging Hepatitis C virus, a breakthrough that led to cures for the deadly disease and tests to keep the scourge from spreading through blood banks.

“Alfred Nobel was very clear in his will when he listed the criteria for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He specifically stated he was looking for a discovery that would have a benefit to humankind so our criteria are very narrow. We’re looking for a discovery that has either opened doors and helped us think about a problem in a new way, or the discovery has changed the way we think about a problem it’s paradigm-shifting,” Juleen Zierath, professor of physiology and a member of the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet said describing the nominations for the prestigious award.

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1.14 million). The prize money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.

The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics, which will be announced in the coming days over the span of a week.


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