Coquetry of a club that loves nothing less than being forced to hand? In any case, the Nobel jury for physiology and medicine took everyone back by not rewarding messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, which, in less than a year, have saved a considerable number of human lives and have paved the way for a host of other therapeutic avenues.
The sages of Stockholm preferred to distinguish works which, as Nobel committee member Patrick Ernfors described it, “Unveiled one of the secrets of nature”. Namely, the mechanisms that allow us, “Sometimes without our even being aware of it”, to perceive the temperature and to be gifted with the sense of touch.
The American David Julius (University of California, San Francisco), 66, and the Lebanese-American Ardem Patapoutian (Scripps Institute, California), 54, are therefore the winners of the 2021 vintage. And apparently the first ones surprised to have outclassed, in the midst of a pandemic, the merits of mRNA: questioned on the YouTube channel of the Nobel Academy, Abdel El Manira, professor at the Karolinska Institute, himself assured that the applicants had been “Very surprised to receive the award this year”.
“That’s the beauty of these discoveries: showing people that sensations have a molecular basis”, Alain Eschalier, professor emeritus of medical pharmacology
This choice, however, did not take the experts by surprise. Already in 2020, the duo shared the prestigious Kavli Prize for Neuroscience, while David Julius received the equally prestigious Breakthrough Prize a year earlier.
“The Nobel committee does not like to be guided by the limelight, explains Laurent Misery, professor of dermatology and director of a neuroscience laboratory at the University of Brest. It rewards here really fundamental discoveries on quite magical physiological processes, namely how external stimuli, physical or chemical, are transformed into sensations. “
“That’s the beauty of these discoveries: showing people that sensations have a molecular basis which, moreover, is linked to the plant world. This illustrates the uniqueness of living things ”, adds Alain Eschalier, professor emeritus of medical pharmacology and president of the Analgesia Institute, focused on the study of pain.
The work of the two recipients converge to be part of the abundant study of somatosensation, that is to say all the molecular and cellular devices which, through the skin and mucous membranes, but also the limbs and organs , give us tactile information, temperature, pain, balance, position and movement. In short, everything that allows us to perceive the surrounding world, and our body in it.
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Research on sensory receptors awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine