Nobel laureate joins GWU science team

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2011

George Washington University announced Tuesday that it has hired a Nobel laureate: Ferid Murad, a biochemist from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Murad shared a Nobel Prize in medicine in 1998 with two other researchers for discovering the role of nitric oxide in the cardiovascular system, controlling the process by which blood vessels relax and widen. Murad was then at the Houston medical school. Nitroglycerin "had been used for 100 years" to treat heart patients by doctors who did not know why it worked, Murad said in an interview.

Murad will join GWU as university professor and will be "deeply engaged with students across the university," the university said in a statement, teaching an undergraduate course, mentoring graduate and medical students, conducting research and leading a laboratory program within the university's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

The hire of a Nobel laureate is a watershed moment for any university. It confers bragging rights and elevates the school's stature within the academic community and on collegiate rankings.

"It's an emblem of the university's commitment to doing the kind of research that the Nobel was designed to recognize," said Steven Knapp, the university's president.

The University of Maryland flagship in College Park has three Nobel laureates: NASA researcher John C. Mather, economist Thomas C. Schelling and physicist William Phillips. Johns Hopkins in Baltimore has four Nobel laureates on faculty, according to its Web site.

"I think the only other Nobel laureate in D.C. is Obama," Murad joked, alluding to the president's 2009 prize.

Murad, 74, holds several titles at the Texas institution, including director emeritus of the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases. He previously held faculty positions at Stanford University and at the University of Virginia. His presence at GWU will add luster to its medical school, which has survived an accreditation crisis and administration turnover in the past three years.

GWU officials declined to reveal Murad's salary.

Murad said he was attracted to GWU as a "complete university," in contrast to the health-sciences focus in Houston. He will start work here in April and said he will design a course for undergraduates "to get them turned on and juiced up about medical research."

He said he hopes to contribute to at least three areas of research in what will likely be his last faculty job: embryonic stem cells, the aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma and treatment of diarrhea in developing countries.

"If we can help a few million people here and there, I think it will be a big advance," he said.


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