Robert F. Furchgott’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1998
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed an honor for me to address you on behalf of Professor Ferid Murad, Professor Louis Ignarro and myself, co-winners of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. It is of special interest that the prize this year is being awarded to us for “discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system,” for there is a fascinating relationship between these discoveries and the chemical that Alfred Nobel tamed for use in dynamite and other explosives, namely nitroglycerin.
As you may be aware, Alfred Nobel in the last ten years of his life suffered from attacks of angina pectoris, the chest pain resulting from an insufficient flow of oxygenated blood in the coronary vessels of the heart. By that time, tablets containing nitroglycerin, a potent dilator of blood vessels, had been introduced as the drug of choice for alleviating anginal pains or for preventing such pains during physical exertion. When Nobel’s doctor prescribed nitroglycerin for him, Nobel wrote to a friend, “It sounds like the irony of fate that I should be ordered by my doctor to take nitroglycerin internally.” Today it seems like fate, but not an irony of fate, that some ninety years after Nobel wrote that letter, my two co-winners would present evidence that the vasodilating effect of nitroglycerin on coronary and other blood vessels is due to the nitric oxide released from it when it is enzymatically metabolized in the blood vessel wall, and that I would discover the endothelium-derived relaxing factor, a signalling molecule which would turn out to be nitric oxide.
So the seemingly fated progression was from nitroglycerin as Nobel’s active ingredient in dynamite, to nitroglycerin for treating angina pectoris, to nitric oxide as the metabolic product of nitroglycerin responsible for its vasodilating action, to nitric oxide as an important endogenous signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system, to the award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to the three of us for our discoveries concerning this unique signalling molecule.
The three of us wish to extend our sincere thanks to the members of the Nobel Committee of the Karolinska Institute for the great honor they have bestowed upon us.
And finally, for the three of us, NOBEL means NO is beautiful!