September 21, 2017

Nobel Prize-winning pharmacologist Louis J. Ignarro addressed students and faculty of The Catholic University of America earlier this month, chronicling his research work studying nitric oxide as a unique signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system.

Ignarro’s address, “The Road to Stockholm: A Nobel Mission,” was part of the 2017 Biology Graduate Student Research Symposium. The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Biology and the Graduate Student Association.

A professor emeritus in the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the UCLA School of Medicine, Ignarro is credited with discovering that nitric oxide relaxes vascular smooth muscle, inhibits platelet aggregation, and serves as a neurotransmitter mediating erectile function.

Because of his research, drugs like Viagra and Nebivolol have been developed using nitric oxide to treat health problems like erectile dysfunction and hypertension. As a result, Ignarro was named a co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Pharmacology or Medicine, alongside his research partners Robert F. Furchgott and Ferid Murad.

“The impact of nitric oxide on medicine and therapeutics has been phenomenal,” Ignarro said during his Sept. 15 talk. “My interest has always been in [how nitric oxide can stop] cardiovascular disease because it was and still is the number one cause of morbidity and untimely death in the United States.”

The talk was organized by Frank Portugal, clinical associate professor and director of the Master of Science in Biotechnology program in the biology department, who has had a long friendship with Ignarro — the two men were classmates in college at Columbia University.

“This was a really extraordinary talk because very often people are telling us about the research and data that was successful,” Portugal said. “It’s really unusual to hear someone telling us about the intellectual development of a project, the results that were made, and the false trails that were followed.”

Ignarro’s talk was one of many presentations during the symposium, which highlighted the research work of biology graduate students. The event also included time for poster presentations, highlighting nearly 30 group research projects from around the department.

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