As part of the Mission to recognize major cardiovascular achievement throughout the world, the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences recognizes Dr. Robert F. Furchgott for his extraordinary accomplishments with the Academy’s Medal of Merit.

Dr. Furchgott was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1916. He received a B.S. degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina in 1937 and a Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from Northwestern University in 1940. He was at Cornell University College of Medicine (Departments of Medicine and Physiology) from 1940-1949 and at Washington University (Department of Pharmacology) from 1949-1956. He served as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology of the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center at Brooklyn from 1956-1983, and is presently Distinguished Professor Emeritus at that institution. He has also been Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Miami School of Medicine (1989-2001), and Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology at the Medical University of South Carolina (since 2001).

Dr. Furchgott is recognized for his research in cardiac pharmacology, adrenergic peripheral mechanisms, theory of drug-receptor mechanisms, and vascular pharmacology and physiology. Much of his research has been carried out on isolated, living preparations of heart and blood vessels. His development in the 1950’s of the helical strip of rabbit thoracic aorta as a model system for studies on drug-receptor mechanisms led to its use in laboratories worldwide. He was one of the first investigators to demonstrate the importance of the neuronal uptake mechanism for modulating responses of adrenergic effector organs to norepinephrine and epinephrine. Before the advent of radio-ligands for studying receptors, he developed theory and pharmacological procedures for the characterization and differentiation of cell membrane receptors on which drugs, neurotransmitters and hormones act. He also made the novel discovery that vascular smooth muscle is photosensitive, undergoing reversible relaxation when exposed to near ultraviolet light, and determined the action spectrum and other characteristics of this phenomenon.

In 1980, he reported his discovery of the obligatory role of endothelial cells in the relaxation (vasodilation) of arteries by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and demonstrated that the relaxation resulted from release of a labile factor (later called endothelium-derived relaxing factor or EDRF) from the stimulated endothelial cells. This novel dis covery was followed by the discovery in his laboratory and other labo ratories that many vasodilators, both endogenous substances and drugs, act by stimulating release of EDRF. He independently showed that EDRF acts by stimulating the enzyme guanylate cyclase in the vascular smooth muscle cells, leading to an increase in cyclic guanosine mono phosphate (cGMP) which mediates relaxation. He also found that    photo relaxation of blood vessels is mediated by an increase in cyclic GMP. In 1986, he presented evidence for his independent proposal that EDRF is nitric oxide (NO), and that the neurotransmitter released by non-adrenergic non-cholinergic (NANC) nerves may also be NO. The discovery of endothelium dependent vasodilation and the identification of EDRF as NO opened up a new area of research which is contributing much to our understanding of cardiovascular physiology and pathology.

Dr. Furchgott is a recipient of a number of awards and honors. Among these are the Goodman and Gilman Award for Research on Receptor Pharmacology from the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET, 1984); the  CIBA  Award from the Hypertension Section of the American Heart Association (1988); the Research Achievement Award of the American Heart Association (1990); the first Annual Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Achievement in Cardiovascular Research (1991); the Gairdner Foundation International Award (1991); Medal of the New York Academy of Medicine (1992); Roussel Uclaf  Prize for Research in the Field of Cell Communication and Signalling (1994); Wellcome Gold Medal of the British Pharmacological Society (1995); the ASPET Award for Experimental Therapeutics (1996); the Gregory Pincus Medal and Award (1996); the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1996); the Louis and Artur Lucian Award (1997); the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1998).

He is the recipient of Honorary Doctoral Degrees (in Medicine or Science) from the Autonomous University of Madrid, the University of Lund, Sweden, the University of North Carolina, the University of Ghent, Belgium, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Ohio State University, the Medical University of South Carolina, the Medical College of Ohio, Northwestern University, University College London, and Washington University at St. Louis. He was President of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (1971-1972). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1990), a Foreign Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Spain (1998), and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2000).