David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian won for their discoveries on nerve sensors for temperature and touch.
US scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for discoveries on nerve receptors for temperature and touch.
David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were given the award in the field of physiology or medicine on Monday, Secretary-General of the Nobel Committee Thomas Perlmann announced.
“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 committee said upon announcing the winners.
“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.”
Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee, stands near a screen displaying the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine David Julius, left, and Ardem Patapoutian [File: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP]
Patrik Ernfors, a member of the Nobel Committee, said the duo’s discoveries unlock “one of the secrets of nature”.
Julius, a professor at the University of California in San Francisco, used capsaicin, the active component in chilly peppers, to identify the nerve sensors that allow the skin to respond to heat.
Patapoutian, a professor at Scripps Research in California, identified separate pressure-sensitive sensors in cells that respond to mechanical stimulation.
“It’s actually something that is crucial for our survival, so it’s a very important and profound discovery,” Ernfors said.
Last year’s prize in the physiology or medicine field 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.
The developers of vaccines against the coronavirus were also considered top contenders this year.
The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.14m). The prize money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.
The prizes for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics will be awarded over the coming week.