By Stefan J. Bos
Thomas Perlman, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee, said the two prominent American scientists share one of the world’s most prestigious prizes in their field. “The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch,” he announced.
They effectively discovered how humans feel the warmth of, for instance, the sun or the hug of a loved one.
Their work focused on the field of somatosensation, which explores the ability of specialized organs such as eyes, ears, and skin to see, hear and feel.
The two men investigated how the human body converts physical sensations into electrical messages in the nervous system.
Experts say findings could lead to new ways of treating pain. Heat, cold, and touch are crucial for people to experience the world and their survival.
Perlmann said the Nobel laureate’s work would unlock one of the secrets of nature. He called it crucial for “the survival” of humans and “a very important and profound discovery.”
The Nobel Committee’s secretary-general also praised the diverse background of the two scientists. “David Julias was born in 1955 in New York. He performs prize-winning studies at the University of
California and San Francisco, where he is still active. Ardem Patapoutian was born in 1967 in Beirut in Lebanon. In his youth, he moved to Los Angeles in the USA. He performed his prize-winning work at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, where he is still active,” Perlman explained.
The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor ($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 prize is the first to be awarded this year. The other prizes are for outstanding work in physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economics.
Last year’s prize went to three scientists who discovered the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus. That breakthrough led to cures for the deadly disease and tests to keep the scourge from spreading through blood banks.