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Dr. Ardem Patapoutian
Dr. Ardem Patapoutian, a Del Mar resident and Scripps Research professor, recently won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for discovering how humans sense temperature and touch. Photo courtesy of Scripps Research
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Del Mar resident Patapoutian receives Nobel Prize in physiology

DEL MAR — A Del Mar resident and Scripps Research professor has recently been awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for groundbreaking research surrounding how humans sense temperature and touch.

A professor in the Dorris Neuroscience Center at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Dr. Ardem Patapoutian’s scientific breakthroughs were largely made at the Scripps Research lab. He shares the prize with Dr. David Julius of UC San Francisco.

The Nobel Prize committee highlighted Patapoutian’s discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch, research that solved a long-standing mystery of how the body senses touch and other mechanical stimuli.

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

Patapoutian received his award last week during a ceremony at the National Academies’ home near UC Irvine. Typically, Nobel Prize ceremonies are held in Stockholm, Sweden, but the foundation decided to honor the laureates in their home countries due to COVID-19 issues.

“Oftentimes, these prizes are given to one or two people, but I want to emphasize that there is a whole field of people working in this area,” Patapoutian said about the honor. “Specifically in my lab, there’s a big group of young, enthusiastic, smart scientists, graduate students and postdocs who actually do the work. I share this with all of them, of course.”

Patapoutian, 54, an Armenian-American who was born in war-torn Lebanon, came to the U.S. in 1986 where he began his career as a biochemist and later joined Scripps.

He studied chemistry at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, then went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in molecular, cellular and developmental biology from the University of California, Los Angeles. He earned his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology.

“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 a wonderful recognition of these discoveries. I have followed Ardem’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.”