Robert Furchgott, who died on 19 May at the age of 92, was a Nobel Prize-winning pharmacologist whose work with the gas nitric oxide helped develop the anti-impotency drug Viagra.
Research by Furchgott, Louis Ignarro and Ferid Murad proved that nitric oxide acts as an important signal in the cardiovascular system, mediating blood pressure and blood flow. The gas's ability to enlarge blood vessels was an important step in the development by Pfizer Corporation of the drug sildenafil citrate, better known as Viagra, which increases blood flow to the penis.
In awarding Furchgott and Co the Prize for medicine in 1998, the Swedish Nobel assembly praised them for providing the first proof that a gas can perform important biochemical functions in the body.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, on 4 June 1916, Furchgott developed an early interest in birds, shells and other natural phenomena. He earned a degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina and a doctorate in biochemistry from Northwestern University. In the 1950s, Furchgott developed a method for determining how blood vessels respond to medications, neurotransmitters and hormones, using a rabbit's artery. This allowed him to study the effects of drugs on vascular smooth muscle.