David Jay Julius, American biochemist, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Julius was born into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn (US) and graduated in Biology in 1977 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 1984 he received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Berkeley. He is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
He is a member of several academies, including the US National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Arts and Sciences.
David Julius discovered a sensory neuron, called a pain receptor, that responds to physical or chemical stimuli whose intensity causes pain in humans. With this information, chronic pain, neuro-inflammatory syndromes, or those associated with arthritis, cancer or asthma can be treated.
He has received numerous awards, including the Kerr Prize in Basic Research from the American Pain Society (2006), the Zülch Prize for Neurological Research from the Max Planck Society (2006), the Edward Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience from MIT (2007), and the Alden Spencer Prize for Neuroscience from Columbia University (2007), the Julius Axelrod Award from the Society of Neuroscience (2007), and the 2010 Prince of Asturias Award for scientific and technical research.
In 2021, David Julius was awarded the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge in the 2020 Biology and Biomedical category, along with Ardem Patapoutian “for identifying receptors that allow us to perceive temperature, pain, and pressure.” The jury holds that “temperature, pain, and pressure are part of our sense of touch, and perhaps the least comprehensible of the five human senses. Julius and Patabotian have unveiled the molecular and neural basis of thermal and mechanical sensations.”
His ancestors fled anti-Semitism in Tsarist Russia. Julius was born in 1955 and grew up in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of New York, which at the time was home to a large number of Russian Jewish immigrants. He described the living world as “a landing strip for immigrants from Eastern Europe like my grandparents. They fled Tsarist Russia and anti-Semitism in search of a better life.”
On Monday 4 October 2021, it was announced that he would be awarded, along with Ardem Patapoutian, the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
“These groundbreaking discoveries have led to extensive research activities. They have led to a rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system perceives heat and cold and mechanical stimuli.” This is what the Nobel Prize Committee wrote in its announcement of the winners.
“Social media evangelist. Student. Reader. Troublemaker. Typical introvert.”