Professor Louis J. Ignarro was born in 1941 in Brooklyn, New York. He received a B.Sc. degree in Pharmacy/Chemistry from Columbia University in 1962, and a Ph.D. degree in Pharmacology/Physiology from the University of Minnesota in 1966. He did a postdoctoral fellowship at the US National Institutes of Health in the Laboratory of Chemical Pharmacology from 1966 to 1968. Professor Ignarro's first research position after training was with the CIBA-Geigy Pharmaceutical Company and in 1973 took on his first academic position at Tulane Medical Center in the Department of Pharmacology. In 1985, he accepted the position of Professor of Pharmacology at the UCLA School of Medicine, where he remains today. His current endowed position is the Jerome J. Belzer, MD, Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology.
Professor Ignarro has received many awards but perhaps the most notable are: the Basic Research Prize of the American Heart Association, election into the National Academy of Sciences, election into the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Professor Louis J. Ignarro and two other scientists received the Nobel Prize for their three major discoveries involving nitric oxide as a unique signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. In 1972, Professor Ignarro discovered that nitric oxide causes vasodilation, a widening of the blood vessels, and inhibition of thrombosis, which leads to improved blood flow to the arteries and veins. In 1986, he confirmed his suspicion that blood vessels can make nitric oxide, the active ingredient in nitroglycerin, a common drug used to treat heart conditions. Experiments in 1990 led to the discovery that nitric oxide is the neurotransmitter responsible for penile erection. The discovery made it possible for a drug company to develop and market Viagra, the first oral medication for the effective treatment of erectile dysfunction.
Professor Ignarro's discoveries created an explosion of research involving nitric oxide. In 1986, there were a dozen papers published on nitric oxide and just 10 years later, there were about 7,600 papers published on nitric oxide. His observations with nitric oxide have made it possible for medical professionals to understand what protects the cardiovascular system against pathological conditions such as hypertension, stroke, coronary artery disease and other forms of atherosclerosis, gastrointestinal ulcers and vascular complications of diabetes.