Institution:SUNY Downstate Medical Center
Robert F. Furchgott, PhD, 1998 Nobel Laureate. 1996 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. SUNY Downstate Medical Center, professor and chair of Downstate’s Department of Pharmacology.
Furchgott was the first to discover that the endothelium, a layer of cells at the innermost surface of blood vessels, releases a substance that causes the underlying smooth muscle to relax. He called this substance endothelium-derived relaxing factor, or EDRF. It was the first time attention had been called to this crucial role that the endothelium plays in cardiovascular health and disease. Furchgott subsequently demonstrated that EDRF was in actuality nitric oxide, a chemical that plays a role in the management of heart disease by keeping blood vessels open and facilitating blood flow. With others, he further demonstrated that the substance appeared to be responsible for the effects of other pharmacologic agents, including ATP, ADP, substance P, and bradykinin in mediating the relaxation of isolated arteries from multiple anatomical sites. Furchgott’s discoveries have helped scientists understand and find new treatments for cardiovascular diseases and a host of other conditions. It mediates the control of blood pressure and blood flow, airway tone, gastrointestinal motility, penile erection, and the fighting of cancer and infection. In the brain, nitric oxide is an important neurotransmitter that is revealing clues to memory and learning.
Furchgott joined the Downstate faculty in 1956. His early work on receptor pharmacology laid the groundwork for his experiments leading to the EDRF discovery in 1980. In 1996, Furchgott shared the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award with Ferid Murad. In 1998, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Murad and Louis H. Ignarro. Furchgott died on May 19, 2009 at the age of 92.