Louis J. Ignarro is an American pharmacologist who won a share of 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his works on the properties of nitric oxide. In addition to the Nobel Prize, he is also the recipient of several other prestigious awards including the Basic Research Prize of the American Heart Association in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the advancement of cardiovascular science. A professor of pharmacology at the UCLA School of Medicine's department of molecular and medical pharmacology in Los Angeles, he is also the founder of the Nitric Oxide Society, and founder and editor-in-chief of ‘Nitric Oxide Biology and Chemistry.’ Interested in science from an early age, he displayed extraordinary aptitude for chemistry as a young boy. After completing high school, he headed to the Columbia University where he studied chemistry and pharmacology and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. He then proceeded to earn his Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Minnesota, which boasted of having one of the best departments of pharmacology in the nation at that time. Following his doctorate he embarked on a career in drug development over the course of which he performed vital research on the properties of nitric oxide and its applications in the medical industry.
Childhood & Early Life
Louis J. Ignarro was born on May 31, 1941 in Brooklyn, New York, to Italian immigrants. He has a younger brother named Angelo. His father was a carpenter while his mother managed the home and raised the boys.
He spent his boyhood days swimming in the ocean and loved to build sand castles. He was interested in science from a young age and was thoroughly fascinated by the chemistry set he received when he was an eight year old.
He attended Central Grade School and Long Beach High School where his love for chemistry flourished. After high school, he enrolled at the Columbia University where he studied chemistry and pharmacology and graduated with a bachelor's degree in pharmacy in 1962.
He then proceeded to the University of Minnesota where he received a Ph.D. in pharmacology in 1966. At the university, he took a very demanding course in enzymology, taught by the future Nobel laureate Paul Boyer. He also studied cardiovascular physiology and took additional courses in biochemistry and anatomy.
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Following the completion of his doctorate, Louis J. Ignarro accepted a postdoctoral position at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Laboratory of Chemical Pharmacology in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. There the atmosphere was a highly stimulating one and the young scientist learned a lot from his brilliant mentor, Elwood Titus, and collaborated with several others to discover regulatory mechanisms of the cardiovascular system.
In 1968, Ignarro left the NIH to work for Geigy Pharmaceuticals where he headed the biochemical and anti-inflammatory program. There he played a role in the development and marketing of a new nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (diclofenac). This job also gave him the freedom to continue research into new areas of pharmacology including cyclic GMP.
Geigy Pharmaceuticals merged with Ciba Pharmaceuticals in the early 1970s and Ignarro left to accept the position of Assistant Professor of pharmacology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans in 1973. He became a Professor there in 1979, a position he held until becoming a professor of pharmacology at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1985.
It was during the 1970s and 1980s that he became involved in the groundbreaking research that would eventually earn him the Nobel Prize. Around this period, scientists Robert F. Furchgott and Ferid Murad had already performed a series of experiments that demonstrated that cells in the endothelium, or inner lining, of blood vessels produce an unknown signaling molecule which Furchgott had named endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF).
Louis J. Ignarro conducted several analyses to finally identity EDRF as nitric oxide. This discovery was the first one to demonstrate that a gas could act as a signaling molecule in a living organism. Further research in this field determined that there were a multitude of applications for nitric oxide in the pharmaceutical industry which could lead to improved treatments for heart disease, shock, and cancer.
In 2003, he became involved with Herbalife as a paid consultant, eventually becoming a member of the company's Scientific Advisory Board. He worked with the company to develop nutritional and dietary supplements such as Niteworks and has also appeared in videos promoting Niteworks and other Herbalife products.
He demonstrated the signaling properties of nitric oxide, which has significant applications in the field of cardiovascular medicine. His works on nitric oxide paved the way for further research which is likely to lead to improved treatments for heart disease, shock, and cancer. The anti-impotency drug Viagra is also indirectly based on the principles of his research.
Awards & Achievements
Louis J. Ignarro, along with Robert F. Furchgott and Ferid Murad was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1998 "for their discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system".
In 1998, he was awarded the Basic Research Prize of the American Heart Association in recognition of outstanding contributions to the advancement of cardiovascular science.
He is an inductee of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Personal Life & Legacy
Louis J. Ignarro is twice married. His first marriage, which produced a daughter, ended in divorce. He married Sharon Elizabeth Williams in 1997.
He is a fitness enthusiast, an avid cyclist and marathoner, having completed 13 marathons. A popular and charming personality in addition to being a brilliant Nobel laureate, he is also a public speaker on the topics of health and wellness in his association with Herbalife.