Published on January 2nd, 2022 | by Eldrian Tho0
Nobel Prize Winners 2021: Discovery of Touch & Temperature Receptors
Two American scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their “discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch,” This was indeed a breakthrough and as quoted by the Novel Assembly, this discovery helped to identify a ‘critical missing link’ in the understanding of the interaction between our human senses and the environment within the field of medical sciences.
What did Julius and Patapoutian do?
Dr. Julius of the University of California at San Francisco used capsaicin, the chemical compound in chili peppers that gives off a burning sensation, to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of skin that reacts to heat.
On the other hand, Dr. Patapoutian of Scripps Research Institute at La Jolla, California, discovered separate pressure-sensitive sensors in cells that respond to mechanical stimulation in the skin and internal organs.
What does this discovery mean for the future?
The scientific community hopes that these new discoveries could lead to new and innovative treatments for pain and heart disease. There is hope that these new future treatments could also reduce human dependence on addictive opioids.
Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Assembly Committee said “This really unlocks one of the secrets of nature,” He also further commented that “It’s actually something that is crucial for our survival, so it’s a very important and profound discovery.”
All about the receptors!
There are many sensory receptors in our human body which range from photoreceptors which detect light to olfactory receptors that give us the sense of smell!
However, the receptors studied by the 2021 Nobel Prize winners detected touch and temperature. These receptors fall under the category of skin receptors. There are 3 types of skin receptors: mechanoreceptors, thermoreceptors and nociceptors which sense pressure and/or touch, heat and pain respectively.
Skin receptors are found in the subcutaneous tissue in palms of hands, soles of feet, joints and genitals! The receptors of concern to the two scientists; thermo- and mechanoreceptors, are found specifically throughout the epidermis and the basal layer of the skin respectively.
Skin receptors, in turn fall under the giant family of exteroreceptors : which are receptors for external stimuli of the human body.
These new specific discoveries will hopefully pave the way for more neuroscientists and physiologists to develop successful treatments, which will work both ethically, and psychologically well in the human body. Possible human lives could be saved and these treatments could improve the overall quality of life in all parts of the world!