Nobel Prize winner inspires students, faculty with remarkable story of perseverance and discovery

Posted: Friday, October 26, 2007

Presidential Distinguished Lecturer Louis Ignarro, Ph.D., (second from left), visits with President Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., (left), Health Science Center researcher Bettie Sue Masters, Ph.D., and Thomas Mayes, M.D., M.B.A. (right), professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief of  CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital.clear graphic
Presidential Distinguished Lecturer Louis Ignarro, Ph.D., (second from left), visits with President Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., (left), Health Science Center researcher Bettie Sue Masters, Ph.D., and Thomas Mayes, M.D., M.B.A. (right), professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief of CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital. 

 

Faculty, staff and students joined Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, in welcoming world-renowned Nobel Laureate Louis J. Ignarro, Ph.D., to the UT Health Science Center campus Wednesday, Oct. 24.

A video of the lecture is available.

As the sixth Presidential Distinguished Lecturer, Dr. Ignarro spoke to the audience of more than 650 in the standing-room-only central campus auditorium. He recounted his research efforts and the events leading up to and following his discovery that nitric oxide acts as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. His research sparked an international surge in scientific research of nitric oxide that later led to the invention of VIAGRA®, the worlds first oral medication for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998 for his breakthrough research.

Ignarro urges students, scientists to never give up
“Discoveries can happen when planned and they can happen by accident,” Dr. Ignarro said. “Research is accompanied by great frustration. But you should never give up. Pursue your goals to the end,” he said, encouraging the scientists and students in the audience. “Sometimes you have to think outside the box to make discoveries. How can you make an original discovery by following others and going in a straight line?”

Dr. Ignarro discussed these ideas and described the sequence of events involved in his investigation of the chemical biology of nitric oxide and its implications in human disease. His laboratory was the first to conduct experiments that showed nitric oxide was a vasorelaxant. Nitric oxide protects against atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. It prevents platelets and other entities from interacting with the lining of blood vessels. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.


Duane Winkler, a fourth-year graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry and the Ambassador Scholar for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, presents Louis Ignarro, Ph.D., with  the Presidential Distinguished Lecture Commemorative Medal.clear graphic
Duane Winkler, a fourth-year graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry and the Ambassador Scholar for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, presents Louis Ignarro, Ph.D., with the Presidential Distinguished Lecture Commemorative Medal. 

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Bettie Sue Masters, Ph.D., recognized for her work with nitric oxide
“Chemistry is very important because it is the foundation of everything we do,” Dr. Ignarro said. He recognized the Health Science Center’s Bettie Sue Masters, Ph.D., for her pioneering research of nitric oxide. For the past 13 years, Dr. Masters, who is the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Professor in Chemistry, has received funding from the National Institutes of Health for her work in the field of nitric oxide research. She met Dr. Ignarro in 1993 at a scientific meeting at The University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Ignarro later asked Dr. Masters to be a member of the editorial board for the journal Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, which he launched.

“Dr. Ignarro’s work continues to contribute to our knowledge of the physiological functions of nitric oxide and makes our studies on the enzymes (nitric oxide synthases) that produce nitric oxide, very relevant,” Dr. Masters said. “His visit permitted yet another opportunity for us to renew our colleagueship. He is a very collegial, pleasant and interactive person who stimulates the imaginations of all who meet him.”

Dr. Olsen enjoyed visiting with old friend
Merle Olson, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, also had the opportunity to renew his friendship with Dr. Ignarro. The two attended graduate school from 1962 to 1966 at The University of Minnesota where they took classes together and lived in the same residence hall.

“It was an honor and great fun to have him in San Antonio,” Dr. Olson said. “Dr. Ignarro is a great example of why it is so important for our students to pay attention to the work of their classmates because their findings today may someday lead to landmark discoveries.”

Graduate student Duane Winkler presents commemorative medal
Duane Winkler, a fourth-year graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry and the Ambassador Scholar for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, was selected to present Dr. Ignarro with the Presidential Distinguished Lecture Commemorative Medal at the closing of the ceremony.

“This was a very special day for me to be able to meet such a distinguished scientist,” Winkler said. “He not only motivated us, he also inspired us with his amazing story. I am fortunate to be at the Health Science Center where we have such an outstanding president as Dr. Cigarroa who makes it possible for students to hear and learn from such brilliant speakers through this lectureship.”

President Cigarroa said Dr. Ignarro and the previous Presidential Distinguished Lecturers are role models for the next generation of health scientists. “One of my top priorities as president is educating students for the future,” Dr. Cigarroa said. He said he trusts one of those in the audience will follow in Dr. Ignarro’s footsteps.

The annual lecture is sponsored by Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P.



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