First Nobel Prize of the year honors discovery of temperature, touch receptors

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ANobel medal displayed during a ceremony in New York. (Angela Weiss/Pool Photo via AP, File)

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The Nobel Prize in the field of physiology or medicine has been awarded to U.S. scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian.

They were cited for their discovery of receptors for temperature and touch.

The winners were announced Monday by Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee.

Patrik Ernfors of the Nobel Committee said Julius used capsaicin, the active component in chile peppers, to identify the nerve sensors that allow the skin to respond to heat.

Patapoutian found separate pressure-sensitive sensors in cells that respond to mechanical stimulation, he said.

“This really unlocks one of the secrets of nature,” said Perlmann. “It’s actually something that is crucial for our survival, so it’s a very important and profound discovery.”

Last year’s prize went to three scientists who discovered the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus, a breakthrough that led to cures for the deadly disease and tests to keep the scourge from spreading though blood banks.

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1.14 million). The prize money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.

The prize is the first to be awarded this year. The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.

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