Sir John R. Vane FRS
Nobel Laureate (1927-2004)
Sir John Vane was one of the pre-eminent pharmacologists of the twentieth century. He established the William Harvey Research Institute at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College in 1986 after twelve years as R & D Director of the Wellcome Foundation.
John Vane shared the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1982 for his work on prostaglandins. In part this was in recognition of his discovery of how aspirin blocked the synthesis of prostaglandins through inhibition of the enzyme now widely known as cyclo-oxygenase. His work led to a clear understanding of how aspirin and similar drugs produce pain-relief and anti-inflammatory effects. It also provided an explanation for how aspirin prevents blood clots and helps prevent heart attacks and strokes. Aspirin remains one of the most commonly used medicines for treating people with heart disease. John Vane and colleagues at Wellcome also discovered prostacyclin, a key protective factor that helps keep blood vessels healthy. Prostacyclin is a vasodilator prostaglandin that helps prevent blood clots by reducing the stickiness of platelets.
In the early 1970s John Vane also played a key role in research that led to the discovery of captopril - the first member of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor family of medicines. ACE inhibitors are now widely used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure and kidney disease.
John Vane was born in Worcestershire and educated at King Edward VI School, Birmingham. He obtained a BSc in Chemistry at the University of Birmingham in 1946 before training as a pharmacologist under the tutelage of Professor J. Harold Burn in Oxford. After obtaining his PhD in 1953 John Vane spent two years in the Department of Pharmacology at Yale University with the then chairman Dr Arnold Welch. In 1955 he returned to the UK to work with Professor W. D. M. Paton at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences of the University of London in the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The next 18 years were scientifically some of John Vane's most productive as it was during this time he undertook work on both angiotensin-converting enzyme and the actions of aspirin. He progressed from Senior Lecturer in 1955, to Reader in 1961, and then Professor of Experimental Pharmacology in 1966. In 1973 John Vane became R & D Director at the Wellcome Foundation. His research group also moved to Wellcome where they continued their highly successful work on prostaglandins. This soon led to the discovery of prostacyclin.
At the William Harvey Research Institute John Vane focused on selective inhibitors of COX-2, and the interplay between nitric oxide and endothelin in the regulation of vascular function.