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May 27, 2020
Damon Runyon alumnus wins 2020 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience

Research from Former Damon Runyon Fellow and
Scholar Ardem Patapoutian, PhD, helped explain

how our sense of touch works.

Damon Runyon Alumnus Ardem Patapoutian, PhD, of Scripps Research, was awarded the 2020 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience for his breakthrough discovery of sensory receptors that respond to pressure. The Kavli Prize in Neuroscience is awarded for outstanding achievement in advancing our knowledge and understanding of the brain and nervous system. Dr. Patapoutian's research helped explain how our sense of touch works and opened the field of “mechanobiology.” This emerging field focuses on how physical forces and changes in the mechanical properties of cells and tissues contribute to health and disease. 

Dr. Patapoutian discovered two pressure-sensitive proteins, PIEZO1 and PIEZO2, that enable the sense of touch to distinguish between gentle and more painful forms of pressure. They are also involved in sensing blood pressure and bladder fullness and underlie a broad range of human genetic disorders. This key discovery a decade ago has led to new findings on how to treat a variety of diseases, from heart failure to chronic pain.

He shares this prize with David Julius, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco, who discovered sensory receptors that allow us to feel heat, cold, inflammation, and related physical sensations. The Kavli Prize committee notes that while the body’s mechanisms for sensing taste and light had been described, a molecular basis for how temperature and pressure are detected and encoded into electrical signals had been a mystery before the discoveries of Patapoutian and Julius.

The biennial Kavli Prizes, established in 2008, are awarded in neuroscience, nanoscience, and astrophysics with a cash award of $1 million for each category.

Previous Damon Runyon Alumni who have received this honor:

James E. Rothman, PhD, 2010 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience

Nadrian C. Seeman, PhD, 2010 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience

Read more: Kavli Foundation