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Spring 2000

Nobel Men
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LOUIS IGNARRO

For Louis Ignarro, the Nobel Prize was not the capstone of a career, but the beginning of something new. It has opened opportunities "to expand and further my research" and for traveling to "tell my story"about new therapies Ignarro hopes eventually will help to reduce mortality.

His work, Ignarro says, has helped to "keep me younger," which is fitting enough for the man whose research indirectly led to the development of Viagra. A former speed skater and race-car driver, Ignarro runs, plays tennis and prides himself on the "brutal exercise" he says he needs to balance the meticulous lab work, grant writing and other activities of high-level science that would otherwise "drive you crazy."

Coincidentally, Ignarro was travelling in Italy in 1998 when he learned he had won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. By that time, enough friends had told him to expect the honor that he'd allowed himself to think it might happen. But he, like Boyer, had encountered professional skepticism about his theories concerning nitric oxide.

At first, major professional journals refused to publish his contention that a substance that is basic to nitroglycerin and part of the chemistry of smog is also crucial to the life process. But over the years, others repeated his work and confirmed his discovery that nitric oxide is a neurotransmitter that is, says Ignarro, "perhaps the most widespread signaling molecule that allows a variety of different cell types to communicate with one another."

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