Rosenstiel Award winners Julius and Patapoutian, who transformed our understandings of touch, win Nobel Prize

The scientists were recognized for transforming our understanding of touch, temperature and pain.

David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian Noah Berger for UCSF and HHMI/Sandy Huffaker

David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian

When the 49th Rosenstiel Award was announced in October 2019, no one anticipated that winners Ardem Patapoutian and David Julius would be unable to come to Brandeis to receive their award because of a global pandemic.

Almost two years to the week that the Rostenstiel was announced, Patapoutian and Julius were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

While they will be the first Rosenstiel awards to attend their Rosenstiel ceremony as Nobel winners, over its five decades the Rosenstiel has become an award that frequently preceeds the Nobel. Patapoutian and Julius are now the 37th and 38th Rosenstiel awardees to receive the Nobel.

A new online ceremony for the 49th Rosenstiel Awards, featuring a webinar, has been scheduled for October 12, 2021. Registration is available online. 

Updated information was added to this article on Oct.4, 2021. 

Ardem Patapoutian and David Julius were announced awarded The 49th Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research has been awarded in or their fundamental and far-reaching studies of the molecular mechanisms of touch, temperature and pain. 

David Julius is professor and chair of the department of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. His lab identified the channels that respond to heating and cooling the skin, leading to a broad understanding of how our bodies sense temperature.

He also solved a long-standing puzzle by showing that capsaicin, the pungent agent in hot chili peppers, appears hot because it activates the TRPV1 “heat” receptor, while menthol feels cold because it activates the TRPM8 “cold” receptor.

This work has also led to profound insights into how pain is sensed and how inflammation affects pain sensitivity.

Julius is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the winner of a number of awards, including the W. Alden Spencer Prize, the Kenneth S. Cole Award of the Biophysical Society, the Shaw Prize, the Canada Gairdner International Award and the Breakthrough Prize.

Ardem Patapoutian is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in the department of neuroscience at Scripps Research in California as well as an adjunct professor in the neuroscience program of the University of California, San Diego.

He and his colleagues contributed importantly to studies of temperature sensation, and subsequently turned their attention to how the skin senses mechanical stimuli. They identified the Piezo channel proteins that enable touch sensing and proprioception.

They went on to show that these channels play many unexpected roles in cell physiology, including the regulation of red blood cell volume and the properties of airways in the lung. He has since identified other channels that sense other mechanical stimuli.

Patapoutian is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as a winner of the W. Alden Spencer Prize.

The Rosenstiel Award has had a distinguished record of identifying and honoring pioneering scientists who subsequently have been honored with the Lasker Award and Nobel prizes. 

In 2020, the Rosenstiel Award was conferred on Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissmann, for their pioneering work in the development of mRNA vaccines

In 2018, the award was conferred on Stephen C. Harrison (Harvard) for his elucidation of protein structures using X-ray crystallography. In 2017, Titia de Lange (Rockefeller University) was named for her pioneering work on how cells preserve the integrity of their chromosomes.

In 2017 Professor Titia de Lange (Rockefeller University) was named for her pioneering work on how cells preserve the integrity of their chromosomes.

In 2016, Susan Lindquist (MIT) was cited for her work on the association of protein aggregation and neurological disease. In 2015, Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi (Tokyo Institute of Technology) was the recipient for his description of protein degradation through the process of autophagy.

Thirty six of 90 Rosenstiel Award winners have subsequently been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology or in Chemistry. A full list of awardees can be found at

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