The ability to feel heat or cold is so second nature to us that we don’t often question how we experience these sensations. But it was only relatively recently that researchers discovered the molecular mechanisms that control thermosensation—the sensory perception of temperature.
For his discovery of how stimuli like these are detected by the body, and its potential application for use in treating medical conditions like acute and inflammatory pain, David Julius, Ph.D., a professor of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He shares the honor with Ardem Patapoutian, Ph.D., a professor at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, for his parallel body of work revealing how we perceive touch and pressure.
Winning the Nobel Prize is, of course, a major career highlight. But it wasn’t Dr. Julius’ first award recognition. Among other previous honors, his research earned him a Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research in 2013.
“My research was born out of a fascination with, and desire to comprehend, how the body reacts to stimuli from ordinary foods, like chili peppers. I am proud that my work may lead to more effective treatments for people living with diseases like arthritis, asthma and chronic pain,” said
The Legacy of the Dr. Paul Janssen Award
Since 2004, the Dr. Paul Janssen Award has been given to an active scientist in academia, industry, or at a scientific institute who has made a significant contribution toward the improvement of public health. Winners are chosen each year by an independent selection committee composed of some of the world’s leading scientists, including Nobel Laureates and past winners of The Dr. Paul Janssen Award, which was established to honor the innovative namesake of what is now called the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Dr. Julius is now the sixth Dr. Paul Janssen Award winner to have received a Nobel Prize.
Awardees of the Dr. Paul Janssen Award share a $200,000 cash prize to further their work and each receives a sculpture with the inscription of “What’s New?”—the question Dr. Paul, as he was affectionately known, asked daily in his research and development lab to inspire and encourage his colleagues to seek new compounds that might one day lead to new medicines for patients.
This year’s winners, Katalin Karikó, Ph.D., and Drew Weissman, M.D., Ph.D., were honored for their foundational work that enabled the use of messenger RNA (mRNA) in COVID-19 vaccine development.
At the time of his Dr. Paul Janssen Award win, Dr. Julius had this to say about the achievement: “My research was born out of a fascination with, and desire to comprehend, how the body reacts to stimuli from ordinary foods, like chili peppers, with a particular focus on the molecular basis of pain sensation. I am proud that my work may lead to more effective treatments for people living with diseases like arthritis, asthma and chronic pain.”
Johnson & Johnson congratulates Dr. Julius on his Nobel Prize achievement and his pioneering discoveries.