Scientists Ardem Patapoutian and David Julius won the 2021 Nobel Prize for Medicine on Monday for the discovery of receptors in the skin that sense temperature and touch and could pave the way for new pain-killers, reports Reuters.
Ardem Patapoutian is a Lebanese-American molecular biologist and neuroscientist of Armenian descent, received the Nobel Prize in the fields of Physiology and Medicine. The prize was awarded for discoveries on how the nervous system transmits temperature and touch.
Professor Patapoutian was born in Beirut in 1967 and studied at the American University. He left for the United States in 1986 and studied at the University of California, Los Angeles. He learnt of the news from his father as he had been out of contact by phone.
Their work, carried out independently, has helped show how humans convert the physical impact from heat or touch into nerve impulses that allow us to “perceive and adapt to the world around us,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said.
“This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain.”
“In science many times it is the things we take for granted that are of high interest,” he said of winning the more than century-old prize, which is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.15 million). He is credited for finding the cellular mechanism and the underlying gene that translates a mechanical force on our skin into an electric nerve signal.
“(For) us being in the field of sense, touch and pain, this was the big elephant in room where we knew they existed, we knew they did something very different,” he said.
Patapoutian is a professor at Scripps Research, La Jolla, California, having previously done research at the University of California, San Francisco, and California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
Both laureates were caught off guard, according to the committee. Professor Thomas Perlmann, Secretary-General for the Nobel Assembly and the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, described them as “incredibly happy and as far as I could tell very surprised and a little bit shocked.”
The prestigious Nobel prizes, for achievements in science, literature and peace, were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel. They have been awarded since 1901, with the economics prize first handed out in 1969.
The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, shared in equal parts this year by the two laureates, often lives in the shadow of the Nobels for literature and peace, and their sometimes more widely known recipients.