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US scientists win Nobel for work on heat, touch receptors

David Julius, Ardem Patapoutian won the prize in medicine for finding channels that show how heat, cold and touch trigger signals in our nervous system

A file photo of a Nobel medal displayed during a ceremony in New York. The more than century-old prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.15 million). (AP)

Stockholm: American scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian won the 2021 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch, the award-giving body said on Monday.

Their groundbreaking discoveries "have allowed us to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world around us," it said.

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"This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain."

The more than century-old prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.15 million).

The 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, a Reuters report explains.

The winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine David Julius (left) and Ardem Patapoutian are displayed on a screen during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 4, 2021.
The winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine David Julius (left) and Ardem Patapoutian are displayed on a screen during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 4, 2021. (AFP)

The Nobel Prize for Medicine often lives in the shadow of the Nobels for literature and peace, and their sometimes more widely known laureates. But medicine has been thrust into the spotlight by the COVID-19 pandemic, and some scientists had suggested those who developed coronavirus vaccines could be rewarded this year or in coming years.

The pandemic continues to haunt the Nobel ceremonies, which are usually full of old-world pomp and glamour. The banquet in Stockholm has been postponed for a second successive year amid lingering worries about the virus and international travel.

Last year's prize went to Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice and Briton Michael Houghton for work in identifying the Hepatitis C virus, which causes cirrhosis and liver cancer, the Reuters report adds.

A Bloomberg report on the prize winners explained that Patapoutian used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a new class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs. Julius used a compound from chili peppers that induces a burning sensation to identify a sensor in the skin’s nerve endings that responds to heat.

(With inputs from Reuters and Bloomberg)

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