Robert F. Furchgott, biochemist and pharmacologist, was born in Charleston, S.C. With two brothers, his father owned and operated the Furchgott department store in the city, until the onset of the Great Depression.
In 1998, Robert F. Furchgott was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Louis Ignarro and Ferid Murad for their discoveries concerning "nitric oxide as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system." In 1980 Dr. Furchgott discovered a substance in the endothelium, a layer of cells at the innermost surface of blood vessels which causes the underlying smooth muscle to relax. He later discovered this was actually nitric oxide, a chemical that is a messenger molecule that mediates control of blood pressure, airway tone, gastrointestinal motility, penile erection, and in fighting cancer and infections.
Furchgott's early interest in science was fostered by nature study classes and field trips to nearby beaches, marshes, and woods sponsored by the Charleston Museum. His parents encouraged his interest in science with gifts of a chemistry set and a small microscope. He was also inspired by the science columns he read in the Sunday New York Times.
Dr. Furchgott attended the University of South Carolina for a year and graduated with a B.S. in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received a Ph.D in Biochemistry from Northwestern University.
From 1956-88, Dr. Furchgott was Professor of Pharmacology at the State University of New York and a visiting professor in medicine/pharmacology at the Institut de Physiologie, University of Geneva, Switzerland, the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego and Los Angeles, the medical University of South Carolina, and the University of Miami School of Medicine.
Dr. Furchgott has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Madrid, Lund, Gent and North Carolina. He is the recipient of the CIBA Award for Hypertension Research (1988), Rouseel-Uclaf Prize for Research in Signal Transduction (1993), Wellcome Gold Medal, British Pharmacological Society (1995) and the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1996).