NOBEL PRIZE: Medicine Honor Goes To 3 U.S. Docs
The 1998 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to three American pharmacologists yesterday for their "surprising discoveries" that nitric oxide plays a role in regulating "blood pressure, initiating erections, battling infections, preventing formation of blood clots and acting as a signal molecule in the nervous system." Dr. Robert Furchgott of the State University of New York in Brooklyn, Dr. Louis Ignarro of University of California-Los Angeles and Dr. Ferid Murad of the University of Texas Medical School in Houston will split the $938,000 prize. The New York Times reports that the Nobel committee said the three doctors' research on nitric oxide "ha[s] led to new treatments for heart and lung diseases, shock and impotence" (Altman, 10/13). Dr. Valentin Fuster of the American Heart Association called the discovery "one of the most important in the history of cardiovascular medicine." He said, "It has allowed us to improve the treatment of certain patients," adding that it could lead to new treatments for high blood pressure and heart attacks (Maugh II, Los Angeles Times, 10/13).
Now We Know Who To Thank
UCLA's Ignarro "discovered the principle that led to the use of Viagra as an anti-impotency drug," said Dr. Sten Orrenius, professor of toxicology at the Karolinska Institute. Nitric oxide, better known for its role as an air pollutant, "starts the process by which blood vessels in the penis widen to produce an erection" (New York Times, 10/13). The Los Angeles Times reports that Ignarro "received the news in Naples, Italy, while traveling." At a news conference there, he said, "I have devoted a great part of my labor to this molecule ... and now, finally, this discovery can be put to use in the treatment of numerous pathologies" (Los Angeles Times, 10/13). The Houston Chronicle reports that "Murad theorized that the award is being given now because drugs based on the theories the three Nobel winners have espoused are getting closer to patient studies" (SoRelle, 10/13). Under the headline, "Goof Gives Rise To Prize for B'Klyn Love Doc," the New York Post reports that "modest" Furchgott "admitted that it all began with a lucky mistake." He said, "We stumbled upon it, in a way," explaining that an "error" led him to suspect that nitric oxide is used by the body as "a messenger that tells blood vessels to relax and widen" (Crowley/Malave, 10/13). Click here to read a transcript of a PBS Newshour profile of the three doctors.