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28th Hermann Staudinger Lecture with Nobel Laureate Lou Ignarro

Louis Ignarro by Carlos Barretta (cropped).jpg

Louis J. Ignarro

Molecular and Medical Pharmacology
University of California, Los Angeles




Zé Carlos Barretta from São Paulo, Brasil
[CC BY 2.0]

The Road to Stockholm - A Nobel Mission
When Nov 05, 2019
from 04:15 PM to 05:30 PM
Where Albertstraße 17, Anatomy Lecture Hall
Contact Name
Contact Phone +49 (0)761 203-97407
Attendees öffentlich / open to public
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The Road to Stockholm - A Nobel Mission


Dr. Ignarro is a pharmacologist who has spent over 40 years as a research scientist. In 1998, he was co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Robert F. Furchgott and Ferid Murad for the discovery that nitric oxide (NO) acts as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system.

Ignarro is currently professor emeritus of pharmacology at the UCLA School of Medicine's department of molecular and medical pharmacology in Los Angeles.



The field of nitric oxide (NO) research has developed in explosive proportions since the discovery of endogenous NO in 1986. The first biologically important actions of NO were vasodilation and inhibition of blood clotting, by mechanisms involving stimulation of cyclic GMP production.  The cyclic GMP system is the principal signal transduction mechanism by which NO elicits many of its physiological effects in mammals.  NO acts as a CNS and peripheral neurotransmitter, where NO facilitates memory, learning, recall and erectile function. Based on these properties of NO, new drugs have been and are being developed to treat hypertension, atherosclerosis, stroke, angina pectoris, heart failure, vascular complications of diabetes, GI ulcers, impotency and other vascular disorders.  The unique properties of NO allow for the opportunity to develop novel drugs for diagnosis, prevention and treatment of a multitude of cardiovascular and other disorders.


Report on the 28th Hermann Staudinger Lecture with Prof. Louis J Ignarro on November 5, 2019


On a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon, staff and students gathered in the anatomy lecture hall to witness the annual Staudinger Lecture. This year marks the 28th edition of the FRIAS series of talks given by Nobel prize-winning speakers, with Prof Louis J Ignarro from UCLA presenting his “Road to Stockholm,” giving an overview of a lifetime’s research in just under an hour.

The presentation began with Ignarro saying that he wouldn’t be giving a “science talk” rather something that “even his mother could understand.” And this he delivered, taking us on a journey through the discovery of functions of nitric oxide (NO) and its production within the body in a way that everyone could understand.

For Ignarro, the connection to the Nobel prize goes further than just winning it. Alfred Nobel founded the prize in the late 1800s after amassing a great fortune from his inventions, particularly dynamite. In the factories where dynamite was made from nitroglycerin, the workers found that they would have intense migraines when they got to work (not just on Monday mornings, either). On the other hand, workers with angina, or chest pain, actually felt relief from their symptoms at work. People were quick to put two and two together, realising that the volatile gas coming from the production in the factory must be having an effect on the body. It took another hundred years until Prof Ignarro and his team were able to show what that mechanism was.

A further discovery coming out of the lab of Prof Ignarro was that NO is a principal signalling molecule mediating erectile function. Building on a question from a Urologist friend, Ignarro was able to show after a couple weeks that NO was indeed the transmitter.

These findings proved to be such a hit that he was able to publish in the New England Journal of Medicine (a big deal, especially for basic medical research) and was then featured on the front page of the New York Times. The journal Science later announced NO as “Molecule of the Year.” After the link between NO as a transmitter involved in penile erection was established, it wasn’t long before a drug came on the market making use of this knowledge. Viagra was first marketed in March 1998, and it was announced (by the older men of the Nobel committee) in October 1998 that Ignarro had won (along with 2 others) the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine!

A humble, friendly and dedicated man, Prof Ignarro has received many accolades during his 40+ year career, including awards for outstanding teaching. He has an impressive list of over 500 publications, four of which already during his PhD studies. His research career was highlighted by challenging what was known at the time and thinking outside the box, traits that certainly helped to win the Nobel Prize.

Prof Ignarro advocates a lifestyle of healthy eating (lots of fruit and vegetables) and exercise, in order to increase NO and improve health, especially with aging. He not only says these things, he also is an example of healthy living, having run over 15 marathons (only starting in his 60s!) and being an avid cyclist. The talk was concluded with a photo showing Prof Ignarro receiving the Nobel prize for NO from King Karl Gustave of Sweden, standing on a carpet inscribed with the letter N inside a bigger O – what a coincidence!


Ellen McAllister

PhD student

BIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies