Medicine Nobel winner bows out of ceremony

Neither China's ambassador to Sweden nor the 2010 Nobel laureate in medicine will not attend the December 10th Nobel Prize award ceremony in Stockholm, the Nobel Foundation announced in a statement on Friday.

Medicine Nobel winner bows out of ceremony
Edwards, Lesley and Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby, and her son

Robert Edwards, will not attend the ceremony to receive his prize due to health reasons, according to the Nobel Foundation.

Edwards was awarded for his contributions to in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) technology, which have since resulted in nearly 4 million births.

The 85-year-old, whose work led to the birth of the first test-tube baby in 1978, was also too weak to give interviews when it was announced in October that he had won the prize. His wife Ruth will travel to Stockholm to collect the prize on his behalf.

Separately, China’s ambassador to Sweden, Chen Mingming, has declined his invitation to attend the event.

Although Nobel Foundation CEO Michael Sohlman declined to speculate on the reason behind the refusal, China has objected to the selection of dissident Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize, which is chosen and awarded in Oslo, Norway.

“He turned it down, quite simply,” said Sohlman.

All ambassadors stationed in Stockholm have received an invitation. The Nobel Peace Prize is also handed out on December 10th, but at a separate ceremony in Oslo.

Six countries — China, Cuba, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Russia — are so far known to have declined the invitation to attend the Oslo ceremony.

China said Thursday it was “difficult to maintain friendly relations” with Norway following the decision to award this year’s Peace Prize to Liu.

Liu remains incarcerated as a political prisoner in China. His wife Liu Xia, who had expressed a desire to receive the award on her husband’s behalf, was placed under house arrest after visiting her husband in jail to inform him that he had won the prize.

Nobel Week kicks off on Monday for the other nine winners. As usual, the awards ceremony and banquet take place next Friday.

A total of 1,350 guests, of which 220 are students, will attend the Nobel banquet. The guest lists includes several ministers from the countries of the laureates, including Peru’s culture minister and Japan’s education and science minister.

Japan’s Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki share the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with American Richard Heck, while Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the prize in literature.

The 2010 physics prize is shared by Russian-born Andre Geim of the Netherlands and Konstantin Novoselov, who also holds British citizenship.

EU Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who is responsible for research, will attend, along with Cypriot EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. Vassiliou is a cousin of economic laureate Christopher A. Pissarides, who shares the prize with Americans Peter A. Diamond and Dale T. Mortensen.

Sohlman also defended on Friday his decision not to invite Jimmie Åkesson, the head of Sweden’s far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrat party, to the ceremony. The party was elected to Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag, for the first time in September.

All leaders of the Swedish parliamentary parties are traditionally invited to the sumptuous gala. Royal family members are also regular attendees.

“The reasons are very obvious. They are working at 180 degrees against us, or rather, [against] the values we stand for,” he said.

“If you go on their website, the Sweden Democrats have a sort of pragmatic programme…where it’s stated that their ideal is ethnically and culturally homogeneous people,” Sohlman said, whereas Alfred Nobel wanted his prizes to be “cosmopolitan, international” awards.

The far-right party “clashes head on with the philosophy of this institution,” he said.

In addition to his or her significant other, each prize winner is allowed to invite up to 14 individuals to the ceremony. Mortensen will be accompanied by his eight grandchildren aged nine to 17.

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US duo win Nobel for work on how heat and touch spark signals to the brain

US scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian on Monday won the Nobel Medicine Prize for discoveries on receptors for temperature and touch.

US duo win Nobel for work on how heat and touch spark signals to the brain
Thomas Perlmann (right), the Secretary of the Nobel Committee, stands next to a screen showing David Julius (L) and Ardem Patapoutian, winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

“The groundbreaking discoveries… by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates 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,” the Nobel jury said.

The pair’s research is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of diseases and conditions, including chronic pain. Julius, who in 2019 won the $3-million Breakthrough Prize in life sciences, said he was stunned to receive the call from the Nobel committee early Monday.

“One never really expects that to happen …I thought it was a prank,” he told Swedish Radio.

The Nobel Foundation meanwhile posted a picture of Patapoutian next to his son Luca after hearing the happy news.

Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival, the Nobel Committee explained, and underpins our interaction with the world around us.

“In our daily lives we take these sensations for granted, but how are nerve impulses initiated so that temperature and pressure can be perceived? This question has been solved by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates.”

Prior to their discoveries, “our understanding of how the nervous system senses and interprets our environment still contained a fundamental unsolved question: how are temperature and mechanical stimuli converted into electrical impulses in the nervous system.”

Grocery store research

Julius, 65, was recognised for his research using capsaicin — a compound from chili peppers that induces a burning sensation — to identify which nerve sensors in the skin respond to heat.

He told Scientific American in 2019 that he got the idea to study chili peppers after a visit to the grocery store.  “I was looking at these shelves and shelves of basically chili peppers and extracts (hot sauce) and thinking, ‘This is such an important and such a fun problem to look at. I’ve really got to get serious about this’,” he said.

Patapoutian’s pioneering discovery was identifying the class of nerve sensors that respond to touch.

Julius, a professor at the University of California in San Francisco and the 12-year-younger Patapoutian, a professor at Scripps Research in California, will share the Nobel Prize cheque for 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.1 million, one million euros).

The pair were not among the frontrunners mentioned in the speculation ahead of the announcement.

Pioneers of messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which paved the way for mRNA Covid vaccines, and immune system researchers had been widely tipped as favourites.

While the 2020 award was handed out in the midst of the pandemic, this is the first time the entire selection process has taken place under the shadow of Covid-19.

Last year, the award went to three virologists for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.

Media, Belarus opposition for Peace Prize?

The Nobel season continues on Tuesday with the award for physics and Wednesday with chemistry, followed by the much-anticipated prizes for literature on Thursday and peace on Friday before the economics prize winds things up on Monday, October 11.

For the Peace Prize on Friday, media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have been mentioned as possible winners, as has the Belarusian opposition spearheaded by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Also mentioned are climate campaigners such as Sweden’s Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future movement.

Meanwhile, for the Literature Prize on Thursday, Stockholm’s literary circles have been buzzing with the names of dozens of usual suspects.

The Swedish Academy has only chosen laureates from Europe and North America since 2012 when China’s Mo Yan won, raising speculation that it could choose to rectify that imbalance this year. A total of 95 of 117 literature laureates have come from Europe and North America.

While the names of the Nobel laureates are kept secret until the last minute, the Nobel Foundation has already announced that the glittering prize ceremony and banquet held in Stockholm in December for the science and literature laureates will not happen this year due to the pandemic.

Like last year, laureates will receive their awards in their home countries. A decision has yet to be made about the lavish Peace Prize ceremony held in Oslo on the same day.