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U.S. scientists win Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for heat receptors

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U.S. scientists win Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for heat receptors
Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Assembly and the Nobel Committee, announces the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine during a press conference Monday at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Jessica Gow/EPA-EFE

Oct. 4 (UPI) -- U.S.-based scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian on Monday were named winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in discovering the human receptors for temperature and touch.

By detailing how heat, cold and touch can initiate signals in the human nervous system, their discoveries have proven important for many physiological processes and disease conditions.

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"Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival and underpins our interaction with the world around us," the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute, which awards the prize for physiology or medicine, said in a statement.

"David Julius 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. Ardem Patapoutian used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a novel class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs."

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The Nobel Prize said the breakthrough research by Julius and Patapoutian led to intense research activities and a rapid increase in science's understanding of how the nervous system senses heat, cold and mechanical stimuli.

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A New York native, Julius is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and a former postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University. He received his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

Patapoutian moved to Los Angeles as a child with his parents from Beirut, Lebanon. He is a scientist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., and has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator since 2014. He received his doctorate at the California Institute of Technology and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco.

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"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 Karolinska Institute added. "The Laureates identified critical missing links in our understanding of the complex interplay between our senses and the environment."

Nobel Prizes in additional categories will be awarded for the rest of this week and Oct. 11. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences will award the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday.

The prize for chemistry will be awarded on Wednesday, literature on Thursday and the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday. The prize for economic sciences will be announced Oct. 11.

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