Ferid Murad shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Robert Furchgott and Louis Ignarro 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 (nitric oxide not to be confused with N2O – nitrous oxide or ‘laughing gas’) is used to regulate blood pressure and fight 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 (Alfred Nobel was once prescribed nitroglycerin to treat chest pain – he declined), shock, cancer (by inducing cell death to combat tumours) and impotence (Viagra was a spin-off of this research). Murad, now based in Houston, was the person, who first discovered in 1977 that nitroglycerin worked by releasing nitric oxide.
He was born in Whiting, Indiana in 1936, the son of Albanian immigrant, Jabir Murat Ejupi (his name was registered as John Murad by immigration officials). His father and mother, an American who eloped with him at age 17, ran a restaurant to put their children through college. Ferid went to DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana from 1954–58 where he obtained his MD and in 1965 he received his PhD in pharmacology from Case Western Reserve University. He served his internship and residency (1965–67) at Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by three years as a clinical associate in the Heart Institute of NIH. In 1970 he was invited to join the University of Virginia to develop a new Clinical Pharmacology Division in the Department of Medicine.
Having previously worked on cyclic adenosine monophosphate (AMP), Murad moved on to cyclic guanosine monophosphate (GMP). In 1977, he showed that nitroglycerin and several related heart drugs induce the formation of nitric oxide in the body and that the gas acts to increase the diameter of blood vessels in the body. It was particularly surprising since NO is totally different from any other known signal molecule and highly unstable.
In 1981 Murad moved to Stanford as Chief of Medicine of the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital. He left in 1988 to join Abbott Laboratories and in 1993 quit Abbott to found a new biotech company, Molecular Geriatrics Corporation. The business had a faltering start and in 1997 Murad went back to academia as chairman of the newly combined department, Integrative Biology, Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of Texas- Houston. Murad is now director of the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Signaling at George Washington University. He married fellow student Carol Ann Leopold in 1958 and they have four daughters and a son.