2 Americans Win Medicine Nobel for Discovering Receptors for Heat and Touch

By Lorenz Duchamps
Lorenz Duchamps
Lorenz Duchamps
October 4, 2021 Updated: October 4, 2021

The 2021 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to two U.S.-based scientists for the discovery of receptors for temperature and touch, it was announced on Oct. 4.

The findings of California-based scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian focused on the field of somatosensation, more commonly known as tactile sense, or the body’s ability to sense.

“The groundbreaking discoveries … 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 around us,” The Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement announcing the winners.

The duo’s profound discovery may have paved the road to new ways of treating pain or even heart disease.

“This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain,” the assembly said.

Julius, who works at the University of California–San Francisco, utilized capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers that induces a burning sensation, to identify the nerve sensors that allow the skin to respond to heat, according to the assembly.

Patapoutian, who works at a research institute in La Jolla, California, used pressure-sensitive sensor cells that respond to mechanical stimulation in the skin and internal organs to discover a novel class of sensors.

The findings have led to a rapid increase in scientists’ understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimulation, identifying critical links that were missing in the perception of the complex interplay between our senses and the environment around us.

“I mean, pain, that is very closely connected to the sense of temperature and touch. And we know that these systems are for sure involved in pain transduction,” said Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee. “And there is also an activity, quite intense activity at certain places and in some companies to develop new drugs that could play a role in pain—chronic pain, for example.”

In 2020, U.S.-based scientists Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice along with British-born scientist Michael Houghton jointly won the Nobel Prize for medicine for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus, a major source of liver disease that affects millions of people worldwide.

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

The award is the first Nobel Prize to be awarded this year. The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From NTD News