John R. Vane

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Sir John Robert Vane was a renowned twentieth-century British pharmacologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on prostaglandins and the active biological substances associated with them. Bengt Samuelsson and Sune Bergstrom, two other scientists, also shared the prize. His discovery of aspirin’s pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties led to new treatments for heart disease and blood vessel problems. Although aspirin had been used to relieve pain for many years, no one knew how it worked. He was the first to discover that aspirin could inhibit the production of certain ‘prostaglandins,’ which are responsible for inflammation, pain, and fever in the body. Aspirin prevents blood clotting, strokes, and heart attacks, he explained. In measuring the effect of ‘angiotensin-converting enzymes,’ he developed a set of ‘bioassay’ or ‘biological assessment’ techniques to measure the activity of a biological substance. He was able to establish a link between ‘prostaglandins’ and aspirin using these techniques. He was also a key figure in the development of ‘prostacyclin,’ a substance that aids in the health of blood vessels.

Childhood and Adolescence

On March 29, 1927, John R. Vane was born in Tardebigg, Worcestershire, England. Maurice Vane, his father, was a Jewish Russian immigrant, and Frances Vane, his mother, was the daughter of a Worcestershire farmer.

He had an older sister and an older brother, and he was the youngest of the three Vane siblings. From the age of five, he lived in a Birmingham suburb and attended the local public school.

He then went to the ‘King Edward VI High School’ in Edgbaston, Birmingham, which had to relocate due to World War II to a site beside the Repton School in the countryside.

In 1944, he enrolled at the ‘University of Birmingham’ to study chemistry after graduating from high school with pure science subjects. During his university years, he quickly lost interest in chemistry because there was little to experiment with.

Professor Maurice Stacey told him that Professor Harold Burns was looking for a young chemist for pharmacological work, so he joined the pharmacology department at ‘Oxford University’ in 1946.

He joined the ‘Sheffield University’ as a’research worker in pharmacology’ after receiving his B.Sc. degree in pharmacology from the ‘Oxford University’.

Vane only stayed at ‘Sheffield University’ for a few months before returning to Oxford University to pursue his D.Phil. Dr. Geoffrey Dawes was his mentor at the ‘Nuffield Institute for Medical Research.’

In 1951, he was awarded the ‘Stothert Research Fellowship,’ which enabled him to complete his PhD in 1953.

Career of John

On the invitation of the then Chairman Dr. Arnold Welch, he moved his family to Newhaven, Connecticut, United States, in 1953 to join the ‘Department of Pharmacology’ at ‘Yale University’ as a ‘Assistant Professor of Pharmacology.’

He returned to the UK and joined the ‘Institute of Basic Medical Sciences’ attached to the ‘Royal College of Surgeons of England’ under the ‘University of London’ after spending two years at ‘Yale University.’ He began working with Professor W. D. M. Paton there.

He only taught graduate students there, so he had plenty of time to continue his research. During his 18 years at the institute, he rose through the ranks to Senior Lecturer in 1955, Reader in 1961, and finally Professor of Experimental Pharmacology in 1966.

He worked with an active group of researchers and scientists at the department and developed the ‘cascade super-fusion bioassay technique’ under the chairmanship of Professor G. V. R. Born, an Oxford acquaintance. This was used to measure the ‘vasoactive hormones’ released in the blood or the ‘perfusion fluid’ of organs in real time and dynamically.

He concentrated his research on ‘prostaglandins’ in the mid-1960s, and in 1971 he discovered a link between ‘aspirin’ and ‘prostaglandins.’

Despite opposition from many quarters, he joined the ‘Wellcome Foundation’ as the ‘Group Research and Development Director’ in 1973. He aided many of his Royal College of Surgeons colleagues in joining the ‘Wellcome Foundation,’ which grew into the department of ‘Prostaglandin Research,’ headed by Dr. Salvador Moncada.

Major Projects of John

In 1977, he co-authored the book ‘Metabolic Functions of the Lung’ with Y. S. Bakhle. In 1979, Sune K. Bergstrom and I co-authored the book ‘Prostacyclin.’

In 1992, he published his third book, ‘Aspirin and Other Salicylates,’ which he co-authored with Regina M. Botting.

Achievements & Awards

In 1973, he was named a ‘Fellow of the Institute of Biology’ and a ‘Honorary Member of the Polish Pharmacological Society.’

He was made a ‘Fellow of the Royal Society’ in 1974. In 1977, he was appointed as a ‘Walter C. McKenzie Visiting Professor’ at Edmonton, Canada’s ‘University of Alberta.’

In 1977, he was awarded the ‘Baly Medal’ by the Royal College of Physicians and the ‘Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award’ by the Albert Lasker Foundation.

In 1978, Vane was named a ‘Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium’ and received a ‘Honorary Fellowship of the American College of Physicians.’

In 1979, he was named a ‘Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences,’ and the ‘American Rheumatism Association’ awarded him the ‘Joseph J. Bunim Medal.’

In 1980, he was elected as a ‘Foreign Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences.’ In 1980, he was awarded the ‘Peter Debye Prize’ by the ‘University of Maastricht, Holland,’ as well as the ‘Feldberg Foundation Prize’ and the ‘Ciba Geigy Drew Award’ by the ‘Drew University, USA.’

The ‘Society of Endocrinology’ awarded him the ‘Dale Medal’ in 1981. In 1982, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He was awarded a “Honorary Fellowship of the Swedish Society of Medical Sciences” in 1982, as well as a “Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, USA.” In 1983, he received a ‘Doctor of Science’ from ‘Aberdeen University.’

In 1977, he was awarded a D.Med, Hon. Causa by the ‘Copernicus Academy of Medicine, Cracow.’ In 1978, he earned a Doctor of Science, Hon. Causa from the ‘Rene Descartes University’ in Paris, a Doctor of Science, Hon. Causa from the ‘Mount Sinai Medical School, City University of New York, USA,’ in 1980, and a Doctor of Science degree from the ‘Aberdeen University’ in 1983. In 1984, he received a knighthood.

Personal History and Legacy

While at Oxford, John R. Vane married Elizabeth Daphne Page in 1948. From this marriage, he has two daughters, Nicola and Miranda.

John R. Vane died on November 19, 2004, at the ‘Princess Royal Hospital, Kent,’ from pneumonia and complications from hip and leg fractures he had suffered in May of that year.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of John is unknown.


John R. Vane began experimenting with a Bunsen burner attached to a gas stove in his mother’s kitchen when he was 12 years old, but had to relocate to the garden after an experiment went wrong.