He and his family moved to Los Angeles, in the United States, where Patapoutian received his Bachelor of Science from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1990, and obtained his Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from the California Institute of Technology in 1996. He is currently a professor at the Scripps Research Institute, in California.
Patapoutian and the co-winner of this year’s prize, David Julius, a professor of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, were honored for discoveries they made independently of each other about how the human body perceives temperature and touch.
“Dr. Patapoutian, together with Dr. David Julius, unlocked one of the mysteries of life, how do we sense temperature and pressure,” Peter Schultz, president and CEO of the Scripps Research Institute, said in a news release. He went on to describe Patapoutian as “an extraordinary scientist, mentor, and colleague and a wonderful person.”
The release quoted Patapoutian as saying, “I certainly could never have imagined this day. More than that, I could never have imagined this life in science.”
Simple Questions, Complex Discoveries
Ardem Patapoutian began his research with a fundamental question about how mechanical stimuli such as pressure and touch are perceived. Although it seems a simple question, Patapoutian’s tireless pursuit ended with ongoing and renewed discoveries.
His most prominent discovery is that of a new class of receptors in the skin and internal organs that respond to mechanical stimuli. Later, Patapoutian and collaborators in his lab discovered how these receptors control a wide range of body organs’ biological needs, and their role in intercellular communication.
“We talk about a key that unlocks a door that opens to a room. These receptors are the key to the door of understanding biology and disease,” Patapoutian said in an interview with Scripps Research.
The ion channel “Piezo1,” one of the receptors discovered by Patapoutian, plays a role in protecting against malaria and affecting the amount of iron in the blood, he said. The receptors may also be involved in tracking how much the stomach stretches during a meal, and how much food passes through the intestine during digestion.