Louis Joseph Ignarro

Prof. Dr. Louis Joseph Ignarro

Nationality
United States 
Institution
University of California, School of Medicine, Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology 
Award
1998 
Discipline
Physiology or Medicine 
Co-recipients
Profs. Robert F. Furchgott and Ferid Murad 

CURRICULUM VITAE

Louis Joseph Ignarro shared the 1998 chemistry prize with Robert Furchgott and Ferid Murad for the discovery that nitric oxide (NO) acts as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system, prompting blood vessels to relax and widen. The discovery that the gas was produced naturally represented a whole new mechanism for biological signalling. Today NO (not to be confused with N2O – nitrous oxide, or ‘laughing gas’) is used to regulate blood pressure and ?ght infection. It helps prevent the formation of thrombi, activates nerve cells, and helps kill bacteria and parasites. It is used to treat heart and lung conditions (even Alfred Nobel himself was once prescribed nitroglycerin to treat chest pain), shock, cancer (by inducing cell death to combat tumours) and impotence (Viagra was a spin-off from this research). 

Murad was the person who discovered in 1977 that nitroglycerin worked by releasing nitric oxide. Furchgott, in New York, determined in 1980 that blood vessels were dilated because the endothelial cells produced an unknown signal molecule that he called EDRF, the endotheliumderived relaxing factor. Ignarro, in Los Angeles, together with and independently of Furchgott, concluded that EDRF was NO. Their findings in 1986 were the first discovery that a gas can act as a signal molecule. 

Ignarro was born in New York in 1941, to Italian parents, and grew up on Long Island. Like many other science laureates, he was given a chemistry set as a child. He attended Long Beach High School, and Columbia University, studying chemistry and pharmacy, graduated in 1962 and went on to study pharmacology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He gained his PhD in 1966 and performed research at the NIH before joining Geigy Pharmaceuticals in 1968, working on drug development and research. 

In 1973, Ignarro joined Tulane University in New Orleans. In 1983 his team investigated whether cells produced nitric oxide and attempted to identify EDRF. He eventually determined that EDRF must be nitric oxide, and reported these findings in 1986 – just as Furchgott produced similar findings. He joined UCLA School of Medicine in 1985, where he was a distinguished professor of pharmacology and has won the Golden Apple teaching award. He is now professor emeritus at UCLA. He received an American Heart Association prize in 1998 and is the founder of the Nitric Oxide Society. Murad and Ignarro collaborated on Nitric Oxide: Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Therapeutic Implications (1995). Ignarro married Sharon Williams MD in 1997, and has a daughter from a previous marriage.

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Louis Joseph Ignarro

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