Two Americans Win Nobel Prize In Medicine With Help Of Spicy Chili Peppers

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Jesse Stiller Contributor
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Two American professors won a Nobel Prize for their research on how humans perceive hot and cold through a study conducted with chili peppers.

Professors David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine on Monday for their study conducted with chili peppers that uncovered vital information about how humans can sense heat, cold and touch through impulses, CNN reported.

Professor David Paterson, the President of the Physiological Society in the United Kingdom, said during the Nobel Assembly’s conference on Monday that the discoveries would be “vital to the development of treatments for chronic pain and other conditions,” according to CNN. (RELATED: Two Women Win Nobel Prize In Chemistry For ‘Gene Scissors’) 

Julius made a groundbreaking discovery on nerve receptors after conducting an experiment on chili peppers, focusing on capsaicin, or the compound that causes the burning sensation when eaten, CNN reported. He was fascinated by how natural products could be used to probe biological functions in humans.

The team reportedly created a library of DNA fragments that were used to test whether certain neurons would react to heat, touch and pain, CNN reported.

The study revealed that the capsaicin receptor was a heat-sensing receptor that activated at temperatures that were perceived by nerves as painful, according to CNN.

Patapoutian’s corresponding work led to the discovery of “mechanical stimuli” in the skin, and organs that are activated with pressure and touch, according to CNN.

“[Capsaicin Receptors] had been a holy grail in the pain field,” Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Professor Mike Caterina told CNN. “People knew that this receptor existed but there was no molecular handle.”

“Knowing how our body senses these changes is fundamental because once we know those molecules, they can be targeted,” Oscar Marin, the director of the MRC Center for Neurodevelopmental Disorders in London, told the Associated Press.

Thomas Perlmann, the Secretary General of the Nobel Assembly, told CNN that the discovery of the receptors “unlocks the secrets of nature,” while explaining how stimuli are converted into nerve signals, marking it as an “important and profound discovery.”