Ardem Patapoutian in his laboratory at Scripps Research in La Jolla. Courtesy of Scripps

A scientist at Scripps Research in La Jolla shared the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday for discoveries of receptors of touch that could pave the way for new pain-killers.

Ardem Patapoutian, 53, shared the prestigious award with David Julius, 66, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

The Nobel Committee said Patapoutian was selected as a recipient for his use of “pressure-sensitive cells” to discover a class of sensors that “respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs.”

His findings include two ion channels that are necessary to human senses and have been proven to regulate other physiological processes, including blood pressure and bladder control.

“The breakthrough by Patapoutian led to a series of papers from his and other groups, demonstrating that the Piezo2 ion channel is essential for the sense of touch,” the Nobel committee wrote in the announcement at 3 a.m. Pacific time

“Moreover, Piezo2 was shown to play a key role in the critically important sensing of body position and motion, known as proprioception.”

Patapoutian is a professor of neuroscience at Scripps Research, as well as an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Julius was awarded for his findings using capsaicin — a compound found in chili peppers– to identify a sensor in nerve-endings that respond to heat.

Their findings “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,” according to the Nobel committee, which added that the knowledge is being used to develop “treatments for a wide range of disease conditions,” including chronic pain.

“Dr. Patapoutian, together with Dr. Julius, unlocked one of the mysteries of life, how do we sense temperature and pressure,” said Peter Schultz, president and CEO of Scripps Research. “The Nobel Prize is wonderful recognition of these discoveries.

“I have followed Dr. Patapoutian’s career closely since he first came to Scripps Research and can say that he is an extraordinary scientist, mentor, and colleague and a wonderful person,” Schultz added.

Patapoutian, who was born to Armenian parents in Lebanon and moved to Los Angeles in his youth, previously conducted research at the UC San Francisco and Caltech in Pasadena.

The more than century-old prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns, or approximately $1.15 million.

Reuters and City News Service contributed to this article.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.