2 US scientists get Nobel Prize in Medicine

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The Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded to two U.S.-based scientists for their discoveries on how the human body perceives temperature, movement and touch.

David Julis, PhD, and Ardem Patapoutian, PhD, were jointly recognized Oct. 4 for identifying receptors that respond to heat and pressure. 

"Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival and underpins our interaction with the world around us," the Nobel Assembly said in a news release describing the prize winners' work. "In our daily lives we take these sensations for granted, but how are nerve impulses initiated so that temperature and pressure can be perceived? This question has been solved by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates."

In the 1990s Dr. Julius, a professor in the physiology department at UC San Francisco, used capsaicin, a strong chemical compound that induces the burning sensation from chili peppers, to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that respond to heat. 

Dr. Patapoutian, a molecular biologist and neuroscientist, separately identified another class of novel sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli or touch in the skin and internal organs. He is a professor at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif. 

Their findings are being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain.

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