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Three Americans Win Nobel Prize for Work With Blood Signaling

Los Angeles Times

Three Americans were awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discovery that nitric oxide - a common gas better known as an air pollutant - transmits signals within the human body.

That discovery led to the development of the anti-impotence drug Viagra, to a new treatment for newborns with dangerously high blood pressure in their lungs and to drugs for the treatment of shock.

It is also expected to stimulate the development of new drugs for heart disease and perhaps even cancer.

Louis J. Ignarro, 57, a pharmacologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, will share the $955,500 prize with Robert F. Furchgott, 82, of the State University of New York in Brooklyn and Dr. Ferid Murad, 62, of the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.

"The discovery of nitric oxide and its function is one of the most important in the history of cardiovascular medicine," said Dr. Valentin Fuster, president of the American Heart Association. "It has allowed us to improve the treatment of certain patients" and will likely lead to the discovery of new ways to treat high blood pressure and heart attacks, he added.

Ignarro received the news in Naples, Italy, while traveling. UCLA colleague Dr. Robin Eisner told him he had received the prize, and Ignarro asked if the call was a prank.

At a news conference in Naples, he said: "From tomorrow on, my life won't be changed, but my devotion to research will be redoubled. I have devoted a great part of my labor to this molecule and now, finally, this discovery can be put to use in the treatment of numerous pathologies."

Murad, whose father was an Albanian immigrant, was also gratified by the award.

"It's sort of the culmination of your career," he said. "You work and work and work and hope that what you are doing is important and will do some significant things for mankind and be recognized by your fellow scientists. When it happens, it is incredible."

Furchgott, who is retired, said, "I am somewhat surprised, although I knew my name was up for the prize this year. I guess I had some good friends voting."