US duo bag 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine
STOCKHOLM. US scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian on Monday won the Nobel Medicine Prize for discoveries on receptors for temperature and touch.
The Nobel jury stated, “The groundbreaking discoveries by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates have allowed us to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world.”
The American pair’s research was being used to develop treatments for a wide range of diseases and conditions including chronic pain.
Julius, who in 2019 won the US$3 million breakthrough prize in life sciences, said he was stunned to receive the call from the Nobel committee. “One never really expects that to happen. I thought it was a prank,” he told Swedish Radio.
Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival, the Nobel Committee explained, 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.”
Meanwhile, the Nobel Foundation posted a picture of Patapoutian next to his son Luca after hearing the news.
Grocery store research
Julius, 65, was recognised for his research using capsaicin, a compound from chili peppers that induces a burning sensation, to identify which nerve sensors in the skin respond to heat.
He told Scientific American in 2019 that he got the idea to study chili peppers after a visit to the grocery store.
“I was looking at these shelves of basically chili peppers and extracts of hot sauce and thinking this is such an important problem to look into. I’ve really got to get serious about this,” he said.
Patapoutian’s pioneering discovery was identifying the class of nerve sensors that respond to touch.
Julius, a professor at the University of California in San Francisco and the 12-year-younger Patapoutian, a professor at Scripps Research in California, will share the Nobel Prize cheque for 10 million Swedish kronor (€1 million, US$1.1 million).
The pair were not among the frontrunners mentioned in the speculation ahead of the announcement.
Pioneers of messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which paved the way for mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, and immune system researchers had been widely tipped as favourites.
While the 2020 award was handed out in the midst of the pandemic, this was the first time the entire selection process had taken place under the shadow of Covid-19.
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