Two Americans win Nobel Prize in medicine for their work on heat and touch

  • Americans Julius and Patapoutian win Nobel Prize in medicine
  • Discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch recognized
  • Discoveries could pave the way for new pain relievers

STOCKHOLM, Oct. 4 (Reuters) – US scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian on Monday won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of receptors in the skin that sense temperature and touch and could pave the way for new pain relievers.

Their work, carried out independently, has helped show how humans convert the physical impact of heat or touch into nerve impulses that allow us to “perceive and adapt to the world around us,” said l Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

“This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of diseases, including chronic pain.”

Patapoutian, who was born in 1967 to Armenian parents in Lebanon and moved to Los Angeles in his youth, learned the news from his father when he had been out of contact by phone.

“In science, it’s often the things we take for granted that are of great interest,” he said of the more than 100-year-old prize, worth SEK 10 million (1, $ 15 million).

He is credited with discovering the cellular mechanism and the underlying gene that translates a mechanical force on our skin into an electrical nerve signal.

“(For) us being in the realm of senses, touch and pain, it was the big elephant in the room where we knew they existed, we knew they were doing something very different,” said he declared.

Patapoutian is a professor at Scripps Research, La Jolla, Calif., Having conducted research at the University of California, San Francisco, and the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Born in New York, Julius, 65, is a professor at the University of California at San Francisco (UCFS), having previously worked at Columbia University, New York.

His discoveries were inspired by his fascination with how natural products can be used to probe biological function and he used capsaicin, the molecule that makes peppers spicy by simulating a false sensation of heat, to understand the meaning of skin temperature.

Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Assembly and of the Nobel Committee, announces the 2021 Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian (seen on screen) during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden October 4, 2021. T TT News Agency / Jessica Gow via REUTERS

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Julius hopes his work will help identify new strategies for treating chronic pain syndromes.

“We all know there is a real lack of drugs and approaches to treat chronic pain,” Julius said in a 2017 video posted to Youtube by UCSF. “I think we need new perspectives and new ideas for treating pain, pharmacologically and in other ways, and I think our work will help.”

Jan Adams, scientific director of German drugmaker Gruenenthal GmbH, which markets skin pain relief patches and creams based on the capsaicin receptor TRPV1 discovered by Julius, said his work had “opened up a whole new area of ​​research for novel non-opioid pain therapies. “.


The two winners were caught off guard, according to the committee. Professor Thomas Perlmann, secretary general of the Nobel Assembly and the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, described them as “incredibly happy and, as far as I know, very surprised and a little shocked”.

The prestigious Nobel Prizes, for achievements in the fields of science, literature and peace, were created and funded by the will of Swedish inventor and dynamite businessman Alfred Nobel. They have been awarded since 1901, the economics prize being awarded for the first time in 1969.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shared equally this year by the two laureates, often lives in the shadow of the Nobel Prize for Literature and Peace, and their sometimes more famous recipients.

But medicine has been put in the spotlight by the COVID-19 pandemic, and some scientists have suggested that those who have developed coronavirus vaccines could be rewarded this year or in the years to come.

The pandemic continues to haunt Nobel ceremonies, which are usually full of old world pomp and glamor. The banquet in Stockholm has been postponed for a second year in a row due to lingering concerns about the virus and international travel. Read more

($ 1 = 8.7272 Swedish kronor)

Ludwig Burger reported from Frankfurt, Additional reporting Terje Solsvik in Oslo and by Niklas Pollard, Johan Ahlander, Simon Johnson, Supantha Mukherjee and Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, edited by Timothy Heritage

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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