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Sir John Vane, 77; scientist showed how aspirin works

LONDON -- Sir John Vane, who shared the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1982 for his work in discovering how aspirin works, has died. He was 77.

Mr. Vane died Friday in Farnborough of complications from fractures suffered earlier in the year, the University of London said.

Mr. Vane showed that aspirin inhibits the production of prostaglandins, ubiquitous hormone-like substances that are involved in body mechanisms ranging from fever to inducing labor.

Aspirin does this by blocking an enzyme known as prostaglandin synthetase or cyclo-oxygenase. The body needs the enzyme to make precursors for most of the half-dozen known prostaglandins and a few other key substances.

The prostaglandins that are blocked include those that make it easier for nerve cells to pass pain signals from one to another, those that raise fever, and those that promote the swelling of inflamed tissue.

Mr. Vane discovered a prostaglandin called prostacyclin that relaxes blood vessels.

The discovery led to new treatments for heart and vessel disease, including ACE inhibitors, which are widely used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure, and other vascular diseases.

He shared the 1982 Nobel Prize with Swedish researchers Sune K. Bergstroem and Bengt I. Samuelsson.

Mr. Vane founded the William Harvey Research Institute, specializing in cardiovascular and inflammation research, in 1986, serving first as chairman, then as director general. In 1996, the institute became part of the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, affiliated with Queen Mary University of the University of London.

Mr. Vane was a fellow of the Royal Society, Britain's preeminent academic society, and was knighted in 1984.

He leaves his wife and two daughters.

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