UCLA pharmacologist invented nicotine patch

Times Staff Writer

Dr. Murray E. Jarvik, the UCLA pharmacologist who showed that nicotine was the addictive factor in tobacco and invented the nicotine patch for smokers trying to quit, died Thursday at his home in Santa Monica.

He was 84 and had been struggling for some time with congestive heart failure, according to UCLA spokesman Mark Wheeler.

“Murray was always asking, ‘Why do people smoke?’ ” said UCLA psychiatric researcher Richard Olmstead. “I would say that Murray’s greatest impact was advancing the proposition that nicotine was the key addictive component in tobacco. . . . He was able to largely answer his question.”


A nonsmoker, Jarvik grew interested in the subject when he observed the great difficulty encountered by his wife, Dr. Lissy Jarvik of UCLA, in kicking the habit.

“I realized then that it was an addiction, and I said so in an article I published in 1970,” he later told the journal Addiction.

Beginning in the late 1960s, while he was a researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, Jarvik taught monkeys how to smoke and demonstrated the links between nicotine and addiction, and exploring the effects of medications on the response. He took the monkeys with him when he moved to UCLA in 1972 and continued his work, experimenting with nicotine gum in animals and humans, and showing that it could reduce the craving for cigarettes.

Beginning in 1984, Jarvik and his student Jed Rose, now director of the Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research at Duke University, began investigating the possibility of introducing nicotine through a transdermal patch.

Their interest was piqued, in part, by their knowledge of “green tobacco illness,” which affected farmhands harvesting the crop in the South. They suspected that nicotine in the tobacco was being absorbed through the workers’ skin, creating their symptoms.

When they initially could not obtain permission to test their idea on experimental subjects, Jarvik later said, they decided to test it on themselves. “We put the tobacco on our skin and waited to see what would happen,” he recalled. “Our heart rates increased, adrenaline began pumping, all the things that happen to smokers.”

They patented the concept and assigned the patent to the University of California, which licensed it to Ciba-Geigy, now Novartis. The first prescription nicotine patch reached the market in 1992, and four years later, it became available over the counter.

Murray Elias Jarvik was born June 1, 1923, in the Bronx and considered himself a New Yorker all his life, according to his family. His father died when he was 11, and he contracted rheumatic fever when he was 12. The disease produced damage to his heart that affected him all his life, leading to numerous surgeries to replace heart valves and to correct other problems.

As a student at George Washington High School in New York, he built a working wooden model of the iron lung used for treating polio victims, a feat that won him what was then called the Westinghouse Science competition. The model was subsequently exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History.

Ironically, when he was 28, he developed polio himself, although he had a milder form of the disease that did not require use of the breathing device.

Because the fatherless family was poor and on relief, Jarvik worked his way through City College of New York, even though tuition was free. His heart condition kept him out of the war, so he was able to get a job at the prestigious Rockefeller Institute, which was suffering a manpower shortage. His experiences there reinforced his interest in research.

He received a degree in psychology in 1944 and went to UCLA for graduate study. After a year there, he found out that his heart problems made him eligible for free tuition through a state program. He got his master’s in psychology after one year and enrolled in medical school at UC San Francisco, receiving his degree in medicine in 1951 and a doctorate in psychology from UC Berkeley in 1952.

Upon graduation from UC San Francisco, he joined psychologist Karl Lashley of Harvard to study the biological basis of learning. Most of the work was performed at the Yerkes Laboratory in Orange Park, Fla., where Lashley had a contract with the U.S. Navy to implant marbles in the brains of monkeys to see if the objects affected learning. They did not.

While he was there, Jarvik bought 12 acres near the lab for $27, put a trailer on the land and dug a well. Apparently the water was contaminated, and he developed polio. Co-workers noticed his absence from the lab, where he normally worked seven days a week, and found him in his bed unable to move.

He left Florida and landed at Einstein, where he began working with LSD, which had been discovered 10 years earlier. “I put notices in the Village Voice newspaper asking for volunteers, and hippies would volunteer to be subjects,” Jarvik said. “I gave them LSD and various psychological tests I had worked out.”

Funds for the research, supposedly provided by a private foundation, were later revealed to be from the U.S. government, which was interested in using LSD as a truth serum.

Along the way, Jarvik introduced LSD to a friend, psychologist Frank Barron, who subsequently introduced it to Timothy Leary, who became notorious for his promotion of LSD use.

In 1982, Jarvik developed lung cancer, another of the many afflictions he suffered during his lifetime. The disease was cured.

In addition to Lissy, his wife of 53 years, Jarvik is survived by two sons, Jeffrey of Seattle and Laurence of Washington, D.C., and three grandchildren. Dr. Robert Jarvik, developer of an artificial heart called the Jarvik-7, was his nephew.