Ardem Patapoutian receives 2021 Frontiers of Knowledge Award from BBVA

Patapoutian is recognized for world-class research that provided the molecular basis for how temperature and pressure are perceived.

January 27, 2021

LA JOLLA, CA—Scripps Research professor and neurobiologist Ardem Patapoutian, PhD, has been awarded the 2021 Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biology and Biomedicine by the Spanish foundation BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A).

Patapoutian is honored for identifying protein sensors that enable humans to feel pain, temperature and pressure. He shares the award with David Julius, PhD, of University of California, San Francisco, who identified the gene encoding the first temperature sensor.

“I am a huge fan of the work of previous recipients of this award, so it is a real privilege to be selected this year,” said Patapoutian. “The award’s emphasis on basic knowledge is a vital perspective for our society, as any useful technology or pharmaceutical advance is based on such basic knowledge.”

Patapoutian discovered pressure-sensitive proteins, known as PIEZO1 and PIEZO2, that enable the sense of touch in sensory neurons and underlie the function of many other tissues and cell types. This key discovery a decade ago set off a cascade of additional findings that continue to shed light on how to treat a variety of diseases, from malaria and heart failure to chronic pain.

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards recognize and reward world-class research and artistic creation, prizing contributions of singular impact for their originality and significance.

An appointed international committee deliberated on nominees in consultation with the National Research Council (CSIC), Spain's leading public research organization in the arts, humanities, and social and natural sciences. Considered by many to be a prelude to the Nobel Prize, the Frontiers award has previously been bestowed upon 15 people who later went on to become Nobel laureates.

“Temperature, pain and pressure are part of our sense of touch, perhaps the least understood of the five main senses of humans,” the awards committee wrote. “Julius and Patapoutian identified the receptors for temperature and pressure, providing a molecular basis for the perception of these sensations. These findings provide a molecular and neural basis for thermosensation and mechanosensation.”

Patapoutian earned his doctorate in biology from the California Institute of Technology in 1996 and joined Scripps Research in 2000 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California, San Francisco. In 2017, he was named to the National Academy of Sciences. Among numerous honors and awards spanning two decades, he has garnered the 2019 Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research and the 2020 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience, both of which he shared with David Julius. In 2020, Patapoutian was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition to his work at Scripps Research, Patapoutian serves as an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The Frontiers of Knowledge Award includes a monetary prize of 400,000 euros (equivalent to about $484,000), to be shared between co-recipients, as well as a diploma and commemorative artwork in the specific award category. The awards will be presented at a formal ceremony in Bilbao, Spain, in June 2021.

For more information, contact See More News