Robert F. Furchgott is a Jewish America biochemist and recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Furchgott (born June 4, 1916; died May 19, 2009) was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Furchgott graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1937 from the University of North Carolina, and became doctor of biochemistry at Northwestern University in 1940. From 1940 to 1949, Furchgott worked in a laboratory at the Medical School at Cornell University. From 1949 to 1956, he moved to Washington University in St. Louis to continue conducting research and experiments at the Pharmacology Department. From 1956 to 1988, he was Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Medicine at New York Cityat the State University of New York.
In 1978, Furchgott discovered a substance in endothelial cells that relaxes blood vessels, calling it endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF). By 1986, he had worked out EDRF's nature and mechanism of action, and determined that EDRF was in fact nitric oxide (NO), an important compound in many aspects of cardiovascular physiology.
Aside from the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine he received in 1998, Furchgott has also received a Gairdner Foundation International Award for his groundbreaking discoveries (1991) and the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (1996).
The following press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences describes Furchgott's work:
Nitric oxide (NO) is a gas that transmits signals in the organism. Signal transmission by a gas that is produced by one cell, penetrates through membranes and regulates the function of another cell represents an entirely new principle for signalling in biological systems. The discoverers of NO as a signal molecule are awarded this year's Nobel Prize.
Robert F Furchgott, pharmacologist in New York, studied the effect of drugs on blood vessels but often achieved contradictory results. The same drug sometimes caused a contraction and at other occasions a dilatation. Furchgott wondered if the variation could depend on whether the surface cells (the endothelium) inside the blood vessels were intact or damaged. In 1980, he demonstrated in an ingenious experiment that acetylcholine dilated blood vessels only if the endothelium was intact. He concluded that blood vessels are dilated because the endothelial cells produce an unknown signal molecule that makes vascular smooth muscle cells relax. He called this signal molecule EDRF, the endothelium-derived relaxing factor, and his findings led to a quest to identify the factor.