US pair win Nobel Prize in Medicine

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American scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have won the 2021 Nobel Prize for Medicine for discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch that could pave the way for new pain-killers, the award-giving body says.

Their findings "have allowed us to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world around us," the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute said.

"This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain.

"Their breakthrough discoveries had launched intense research activities that had led to "a rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold and mechanical stimuli," it said.

The more than century-old prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($A1.57 million).

The prestigious prizes, for achievements in science, literature and peace, were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel. They have been awarded since 1901, with the economics prize first handed out in 1969.

The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, shared this year by the two laureates, often lives in the shadow of the Nobels for literature and peace , and their sometimes more widely known recipients.

But medicine has been thrust into the spotlight by the COVID-19 pandemic, and some scientists had suggested those who developed coronavirus vaccines could be rewarded this year or in coming years.

The pandemic continues to haunt the Nobel ceremonies, which are usually full of old-world pomp and glamour. The banquet in Stockholm has been postponed for a second successive year amid lingering worries about the virus and international travel.

Last year's prize went to Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice and Briton Michael Houghton for work in identifying the Hepatitis C virus, which causes cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Patapoutian, who was born in 1967 to Armenian parents in Lebanon and moved to Los Angeles in his youth, is a Professor at Scripps Research, La Jolla, California, having previously done research at the University of California, San Francisco, and California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

New York-born Julius, 65, is a Professor at University of California, San Francisco, after earlier work at Columbia University, in New York.

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