American Scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian win 2021 Nobel prize in medicine; Know the history and selection process of the Nobel prize

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute has decided to award the 2021 Nobel Prize to two American scientists, David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

The Scientists won the award on October 4 which the award-giving body said could pave the way for new painkillers. Their discoveries have unlocked one of the secrets of nature by explaining the molecular basis for sensing heat, cold and mechanical force. This was seen as fundamental for our ability to feel that describe and interact with our internal and external environment.

The winners were announced by Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee.  Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said, “ The findings by two scientists have made us understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world around us.”

Scientists used a poignant compound, Capsaicin to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that responds to heat. The Nobel Committee pointed out that this discovery illustrates how we know our environment (sense). Moreover, the committee explained that the answers we have been looking for thousands of years are now available, such as how the eyes recognize light, how sounds recognize ears, and how they recognize smell and taste.

One of the scientists, Ardem Patapoutian, who is with Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Scripps Research, used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a novel class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs.

About Nobel Prize in Psychology or Medicine and the Selection Process

In 1895, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, created a fund that would give most of his fortune to those who serve humanity. The Karolinska Institute headquartered in Sweden is the venue where the announcement of Nobel Prizes would make yearly. The medical school and research center at the Karolinska Institute is responsible for the prize in psychology and medicine.

The Nobel Prize is said to be awarded for a “discovery” and that it be of “greatest benefit on mankind”. The Nobel Committee sends confidential invitation letters to persons who are competent and qualified to nominate candidates for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Candidates eligible for the medicine prize are those nominated by nominators who have received an invitation from the Nobel Committee to submit names for consideration. No one can nominate herself or himself.

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The eligible persons to nominate the award winners includes members of academies around the world, professors of medicine in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland, as well as professors of selected universities and research institutions in other countries. 

In 2020, Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice, together with Briton Michael Houghton are the winners for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, leading to the development of sensitive blood tests and antiviral drugs.