Ferid Murad Biography (1936-)

physician, pharmacologist

Together with fellow American pharmacologists Robert Furchgott and Louis Ignarro, Murad received the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries related to the role of nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system.

Not to be confused with nitrous oxide (a gas used in anesthesia), nitric oxide is a colorless, odorless gas that, thanks to initial work by these three Nobel laureates and a flurry of subsequent research by others, now has widespread potential including the treatment of heart disease, shock, cancer, impotence, and pulmonary hypertension--a potentially fatal condition in premature infants. In 1994, the respected journal Science declared nitric oxide asits "molecule of the year."

Born in Whiting, Indiana, Murad studied medicine and pharmacology simultaneously at Western Reserve University, receiving both his M.D. and Ph.D. in 1965.He was an intern and resident in internal medicine at Massachusetts GeneralHospital until 1967, and then worked until 1970 at the National Institutes ofHealth's National Heart and Lung Institute as a clinical associate and stafffellow.

Then followed a series of academic, research, and administrative appointmentsat the University of Virginia (1975-1981), Stanford University and Palo AltoVeterans Administration Medical Center (1981-1988), and Northwestern University and the University of Texas (starting in 1996).

Murad has also worked in the pharmaceutical industry. From 1988 to 1992 he worked for Abbott Laboratories, becoming vice president of pharmaceutical research and development, and from 1993-1995 he was full-time president and chiefexecutive officer of Molecular Geriatrics Corporation.

Murad's work with nitric oxide began when he was in graduate school. He set out to learn how nitroglycerin, used for more than 100 years to treat angina,affected blood vessels. He found that nitroglycerin was effective because itprompted release of nitric oxide, which relaxed smooth muscle cells. Prior tothis, nitric oxide was best known as an air pollutant present in automobileexhaust fumes. The gas was known to be present in bacteria, but it was not thought to be important in higher animals such as mammals.

Based on this, Murad postulated that nitric oxide and other nitrogen-containing compounds (he coined the term nitrovasodilators to describe them) might beproduced by one cell, travel through membranes, and then regulate the function other cells. At the time, this was an entirely new concept for signaling in biological systems, but it was independently confirmed by Furchgott and Ignarro, clearing the way for entirely new therapies and diagnostic methods.

Nitric oxide is now known to play a key role in many biological functions including inflammation, blood flow regulation, cell growth, smooth muscle relaxation, and preserving memory.

Murad's winning of the Nobel Prize for discovering that nitric oxide is nitroglycerin's secret weapon against angina had an odd coincidence noted by someafter the Nobel awards presentation. Alfred Nobel, the Swedish chemist who founded the famous prizes named after him, made his fortune using nitroglycerinto invent dynamite. In fact, Nobel suffered from angina and his doctor onceadvised him to take nitroglycerin to ease his chest pain. The industrialist would not take the substance, saying that, in his case, it caused headaches.

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