Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine Speaks at Browning

On October 16 Dr. Ferid Murad, physician and co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine, was a guest speaker in a series presented in memory of John W. Hadden, M.D. P ’87, ’93 and designed to bring great minds in science to Browning. Introduced by Science Department Chair and Dean of Students Sam Keany, Dr. Murad spoke to the Upper School boys about his early love for science and math, and, ultimately, “the road that led to Stockholm.” After his presentation, Dr. Murad answered questions from Mr. Keany and Dr. Betty Noel, Upper and Middle School science teacher. Director of Publications Melanie McMahon reports:

Dr. Murad and three other researchers – all pharmacologists – worked on the properties of nitric oxide, a gas that transmits signals from one cell to another. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in recognition of their work for discovering that nitric oxide functions as a signal molecule in the cardiovascular system. Dr. Murad analyzed how nitroglycerin and related compounds act. In 1977 he discovered that those compounds release nitric oxide, which relaxes smooth muscle cells. His key research demonstrated that nitroglycerin and related drugs worked by releasing nitric oxide into the body, triggering an increase in the diameter of blood vessels. These discoveries have played a critical role in the treatment of cardiac patients.

His work eventually attracted the attention of the Nobel committee. In terms of the award, he said the criteria include work that is “novel, different and not in the mainstream.” He added, “It’s always a surprise, and there is no way to know ahead of time; it’s just a matter of luck.” Dr. Murad takes pride in the fact that his career as a researcher is based on how his work can be relevant. He discussed the many hats he has worn his during his career, touching on the pros and cons of academia, the corporate world and owning a biotech company that focused on “going after Alzheimer’s.” Ultimately, “wearing a lab coat and working with colleagues in a lab” is essential to his happiness. “It’s where I get my jollies,” he declared. Dr. Murad has continued his research and is currently a professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

In addition to providing background on Alfred Nobel (who coincidentally also studied nitroglycerin) and the history of the Nobel Prize, Dr. Murad talked about his parents, hard-working people who owned a restaurant in Indiana, as well as his early desire to be a doctor. As a student, Dr. Murad pursued an MD-PhD program that provided training in both medicine and research. He referred to education as “precious” and important to him in his quest for options and opportunities in life. He told the boys, “I enjoy what I do so much, probably more than other people. I look forward to going to work every day. My work is exciting. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning! So do what you enjoy and what you find exciting. And do it well. Prepare yourself with a good education. It’s precious and allows you mobility in life.”