American scientist Ferid Murad shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with 2 other American scientists, Robert F. Furchgott (1916-) and Louis J. Ignarro (1941-), for their discovery that nitric oxide, a gas, acts as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. Furchgott working at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Brooklyn, Ignarro working at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, and Murad working at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston uncovered an entirely new mechanism by which blood vessels in the body relax and expand. Their work led to the drug treatment of erectile dysfunction and provided new potential approaches to the understanding and treatment of other diseases that involve vascular reactions such as toxemia of pregnancy. The discovery of the nitric oxide molecule has united neuroscience, physiology, and immunology and revised scientists’ understanding of how cells communicate and defend themselves.
Ferid Murad was born on September 14, 1936, in Whiting, Ind. He attended De Pauw University in Greencastle, Ind (about 30 miles northeast of Terre Haute), from which he received a BA degree in 1958. He then matriculated to Western Reserve University (later Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland, Ohio, and earned both MD and PhD degrees in 1965.
After receiving his medical degree, Murad undertook internship and residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston from 1965 to 1967. In 1967, he became a clinical associate at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md, and served there until 1970. In 1970, he left Bethesda to join the faculty of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He served as director of the Clinical Research Center from 1971 to 1981 and was also the director of the Clinical Pharmacology Division of the Department of Medicine from 1973 to 1981.
From 1981 to 1988, Murad was chief of medicine at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital, affiliated with Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif, and was acting chairman of the Department of Medicine from 1986 to 1988. In 1988, Murad left Palo Alto to join Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago, Ill, where he served as vice president of the pharmaceutical division until 1993. He left Abbott in 1993 to become founder, president, and chief executive officer of a new biotechnology company, Molecular Geriatrics Corporation, until 1995. During this time (1988-1996), he also served as adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.
In 1997, Murad left the Chicago area to become professor and chairman of the newly formed Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School. In 1999, he became director of the university's Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases.
The role of nitric oxide in vascular physiology began to emerge in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1977, Murad, then at the University of Virginia, showed that nitroglycerin induces the formation of nitric oxide and that this colorless, odorless gas acts to increase the diameter of blood vessels in the body.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Ferid Murad has received many honors and awards, including the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1996. Murad was honored on a stamp issued by Albania in 2001.
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