The Nobel Prize for Medicine opens, Monday, October 4, the 2021 season of famous awards. For the 120e anniversary of the awards, Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were awarded for their discoveries on how the nervous system senses temperature and touch it.
Their “Revolutionary discoveries” have “Allowed to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can be at the origin of the nervous impulses which allow us to perceive and adapt to the world”, commented the Nobel jury in Stockholm.
David Julius, 65, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), used capsaicin, an active component in chili peppers that causes a burning sensation, to identify a sensor in nerve endings in the skin that is responding in the heat.
Ardem Patapoutian, 54, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute in California, used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a new class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs. “In science, we often take for granted things that are very interesting”, said the younger of the two laureates at the Nobel Foundation. These sensors, “We knew they existed, we knew they were doing something very different from most other cells that communicate with each other chemically. But the answer was difficult to give ”, according to Ardem Patapoutian.
“I thought it was a hoax”
“They are both incredible researchers who have opened the doors to sensory sensation in a totally unique way”, praised Thomas Perlmann, head of the Nobel committee for medicine, to reporters.
During the night on the west coast of the United States, the Nobel Foundation managed with difficulty to reach the two laureates by telephone, he explained. She released a family photo of Ardem Patapoutian in her bed, congratulated by her son.
This prize thwarted the predictions of experts, even if David Julius appeared since 2014 in the long list of scientific nobelists held by the organization Clarivate. He also won in 2019 the new and richly endowed Breakthrough Prize ($ 3 million, or about 2.58 million euros), created by the founders of Google and Facebook.
“You never expect these things to happen. (…) I thought it was a hoax ”, said the native of New York, reached by Swedish public radio.
Other names mentioned
Two tandems were seen as favorites: on the one hand, the Hungarian Katalin Kariko and the American Drew Weissman, pioneers of messenger RNA vaccines and professors at the University of Pennsylvania. On the other hand, the American Max Cooper and the Australian of French origin Jacques Miller for discovering that white blood cells essential for human immunity were divided into two categories, B and T lymphocytes, thus unraveling the secret of thymus, the last human organ whose precise function was still unknown in the 1960s.
Besides these two tandems, many researchers had their chances, such as the pioneers of cell adhesion, the Japanese Masatoshi Takeichi, the American-Finnish Erkki Ruoslahti and the British Richard Hynes. In epigenetics, the American David Allis and the American-Romanian Michael Grunstein for their discoveries on the role of histones in the regulation of the impact of genes on cells. Against breast cancer, the Americans Dennis Slamon and Mary-Claire King could be crowned for having identified risk factor genes and paved the way for treatments.
The Australian-Briton Marc Feldmann and the Briton Ravinder Maini have been mentioned for years for their discoveries against rheumatoid arthritis. Another Briton, Julian Davies, could have seen the end of antibiotic resistance, a matter of growing concern.
Last year, already in the midst of a pandemic, the 2020 prize went to virologists, the three discoverers of the dreaded hepatitis C.
224 laureates including twelve women
The Nobel season continues in Stockholm on Tuesday with physics, Wednesday with chemistry, ahead of the long-awaited and still very open literature prizes on Thursday and peace on Friday, the only award given in Oslo. The savings price will close the vintage next Monday.
With this 112e Nobel Prize for medicine, they are now 224 to have been awarded the prize “of physiology or medicine” since its creation, of which only twelve are women.
If the Nobel 2021 are well announced as planned this week, the coronavirus has led for the second year in a row to cancel the visit of the winners for the awards ceremony on December 10 in Stockholm. As last year, the prizes will be awarded in the countries of residence, although there is little hope for the price of peace in Oslo.
For the latter, the freedom of the press (Reporters Without Borders, Committee for the Protection of Journalists …), the Belarusian opposition and its leader Svetlana Tsikhanovskaïa or the climate, with the Swedish Greta Thunberg, 18, and her movement Fridays for Future, are mentioned to succeed the World Food Program.
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The Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian