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Sunday, October 24, 2021

How we feel touch and temperature wins Nobel Prize

IDBS ART GALLERY

Scientists who discovered how our bodies feel the warmth of the sun or the hug of a loved one have won the Nobel Prize.

David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian of the United States have been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for their work on touch and temperature sensing.

They dissected how our bodies translate physical sensations into electrical messages in the nervous system.

Their findings could pave the way for new approaches to pain management.

Heat, cold, and touch are essential for experiencing the world around us as well as ensuring our own survival.

But how our bodies do it has long been one of biology’s great mysteries.

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The Nobel Prize Committee’s Thomas Perlman stated, “It was a very important and profound discovery.”

Prof David Julius’ breakthrough at the University of California, San Francisco, stemmed from his investigation of the burning pain we experience when eating a hot chilli pepper.

He experimented with the chemical capsaicin, which is the source of a chilli’s heat.

He identified the specific type of receptor (a component of our cells that detects the environment) that responded to capsaicin.

Further tests revealed that the receptor was sensitive to heat and activated at “painful” temperatures. This is what happens if you burn your hand on a cup of coffee, for example.

The discovery sparked the discovery of a slew of other temperature sensors. Prof Julius and Prof Ardem Patapoutian discovered one that detects cold.

Meanwhile, at the Scripps Research Institute, Prof Patapoutian was poking cells in a dish.

These studies resulted in the identification of a new type of receptor that was activated in response to mechanical force or touch.

These receptors are responsible for sending signals to the brain when you walk along a beach and feel the sand under your feet.

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These touch and temperature sensors have since been shown to play a wide range of roles in the body and in certain diseases.

TRPV1, the first heat sensor, is also involved in chronic pain and how our bodies regulate core temperature. The touch receptor (PIEZ02) serves several functions, including urination and blood pressure regulation.

According to the Nobel Committee, their work “allowed us to understand how heat, cold, and mechanical force can initiate nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world around us.”

“This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain,” it went on to say.

The prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (£845,000) will be split between the two.

Previous winners

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