David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have jointly won the 2021 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.
"Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival 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," the Nobel Assembly said.
Julius of the University of California utilized capsaicin, a pungent compound from chili peppers that induces a burning sensation, to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that responds to heat. Patapoutian used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a novel class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs.
"These breakthrough discoveries launched intense research activities leading to a rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimuli. The laureates identified critical missing links in our understanding of the complex interplay between our senses and the environment," the Nobel Assembly added.
The announcement of the winners was made by a panel at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and this kicked off the week of announcements of the most coveted award.
Last year, three scientists - Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice - won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world.
The Nobel Prize is five separate prizes that, according to Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel's will of 1895, are awarded to ”those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”
Nobel Prizes are awarded in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace (Nobel characterized the Peace Prize as "to the person who has done the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the establishment and promotion of peace congresses").
The prestigious award comes with a gold medal, a diploma, and a monetary award. The prize money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Nobel, who died in 1895.