Robert F. Furchgott
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1998
Born: 4 June 1916, Charleston, SC, USA
Died: 19 May 2009, Seattle, WA, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: SUNY Health Science Center, Brooklyn, NY, USA
Prize motivation: "for their discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system."
Prize share: 1/3
Robert Furchgott was born in Charleston, South Carolina, where his family ran a department store. After studying chemistry at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, he received his doctorate at Northwestern University in Illinois. He then worked at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, at Washington University in St. Louis and, beginning in 1956, at State University of New York in Brooklyn. Robert Furchgott and his wife Lenore had three daughters. After becoming a widower in 1983, he married Margaret Roth, who died in 2006.
Since the 1970s researchers have understood that the role of the innermost layer of blood vessels, the endothelium, goes beyond protection. In 1980 Robert Furchgott showed that the ability of blood vessels to contract or expand disappeared if the endothelium was removed. He concluded that a substance that causes expansion was formed in this layer. In 1986 he and Louis Ignarro, independently of each other, demonstrated that this substance was nitrous oxide (N2O). The discovery has made possible new medications, such as those used to treat heart and cardiovascular diseases and impotence.