“It was really a shock – a blast out of nowhere and quite a thrill,” says David Julius, PhD, about learning in October that he’d won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Julius, a professor and chair of Physiology and the Morris Herzstein Chair in Molecular Biology and Medicine at UCSF, received the prize jointly with Ardem Patapoutian, PhD, a professor at Scripps Research and a UCSF postdoc alum. The two were recognized for their independent discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

David Julius, his wife, Holly Ingraham, and the Julius lab members celebrate with champagne as UCSF’s Mission Bay campus.
Top: David Julius, PhD, and his wife, Holly Ingraham, PhD, UCSF’s Herzstein Professor of Molecular Physiology, field congratulations in the early morning of October 4 from their home in Walnut Creek. Above: Julius and Ingraham celebrate with members of his lab on a patio in Genentech Hall. Photos: Noah Berger

Curious about how our bodies sense pain – and acutely aware of the need for new drugs that can treat pain without the side effects or addictive potential of opioids – Julius turned to the natural world for insights. He studied toxins from tarantulas and coral snakes; capsaicin, the molecule that produces the “heat” in chili peppers; and the chemicals underlying the pungency of horseradish and wasabi. His research homed in on a class of proteins called TRP ion channels as key players in the nervous system’s pain signaling apparatus. These compounds could serve as potential targets for new painkillers.

The secret to his success? “I think science is to some degree like real estate – location, location, location – and UCSF has been just such a fantastic place to work.”

Cover of UCSF Magazine: top reads “UCSF Magazine, Winter 2022”. Text below reads “Shelter from the Storm: Helping asylum-seekers escape persecution”. Illustration of a woman hugging a man; the man’s back has a face with a frown and closed eyes; barbed wire come from the sides and wrap around the man’s arms.

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