Obituary: Murray E. Jarvik, 84, UCLA pharmacologist, nicotine patch inventor

UCLA Health article

Dr. Murray E. Jarvik, emeritus professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at UCLA and co-inventor of the nicotine patch, died May 8 at his home in Santa Monica, Calif., after a long struggle with congestive heart failure. He was 84.  

Born in New York City in 1923, Jarvik, whose career as a scientist spanned more than 50 years, was a pioneer in the field of psychopharmacology  the study of the effects of drugs on mood, behavior and thinking  and was among the first to study the effects of LSD and other drugs on memory and addiction. His studies on LSD were among the first ever published and were followed by studies on the biological basis of memory and memory retention.  

As editor-in-chief of a major pharmacology journal for many years and author of a textbook chapter on the field read by almost every medical student for decades, Jarvik was often called the "dean of psychopharmacology" by students and colleagues alike.   

Former student and UCLA colleague, Ronald K. Siegel, an associate researcher in the department of psychiatry, said, "We all loved his brilliant and, yes, boyish, enthusiastic approach to science."  

Jarvik was perhaps best known for his studies, in the second half of his career, on nicotine, smoking and pharmacological interventions in tobacco dependence. He was instrumental in establishing the field of nicotine research, publishing a seminal paper in 1970 that proposed that nicotine was the cause of addiction in cigarette smoking. His contributions to the field of tobacco dependence have earned him international recognition.  

In his honor, the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco created the Jarvik-Russell Young Investigator Award to recognize scientists early in their careers who have made extraordinary contributions to the field of nicotine and tobacco research.

"Murray was always asking, 'Why do people smoke?'" said Richard Olmstead, a UCLA associate researcher in psychiatry and a friend and collaborator of Jarvik's. "I would say that Murray's greatest impact was advancing the proposition that nicotine was the key addictive component in tobacco. In short, he was able to largely answer his question. Having done so, though, he kept at it, further generating support and caveats to the proposition. As the long-faded banner in his office read: 'Nothing is simple.'"  

"Thinking back, Murray was always looking for simple answers he knew he would never find," Olmstead said.  

In the 1990s, Jarvik, along with Jed Rose, then a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA and now the director of the Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research at Duke University, were curious about "green tobacco illness," a malady striking tobacco farmhands harvesting the crop in the South. That led to research on the potential positive implications of absorbing tobacco through the skin, which resulted in the creation of a transdermal patch that delivers nicotine directly into the body.  

When the researchers could not get approval to run experiments on any subjects, Jarvik, in an article in UCLA Magazine, said they decided to test their idea on themselves.   

"We put the tobacco on our skin and waited to see what would happen," Jarvik recalled. "Our heart rates increased, adrenaline began pumping, all the things that happen to smokers."  

The patch was first available in the U.S. by prescription for smoking cessation in 1992. Four years later, it was approved for over-the-counter sale.  

Jarvik's family remembers him as a professor, scientist, inventor, friend, father, grandfather and husband.  

"He loved life with a fierce passion that allowed him to survive well beyond the expectations of everyone, including his medical school classmates who listened to murmurs on his heart, which was severely damaged by rheumatic fever at age 12," said his son Jeffrey. "The diseases that he had and fought would fill a textbook on medicine and included, in addition to rheumatic fever, polio, lung cancer and, finally, congestive heart failure."  

Jarvik was the former chief of psychopharmacology at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Medical Center and was a member of the American Academy of Neurology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow) and the American Psychological Association, among others.  

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Lissy, herself an emeritus professor of psychiatry at UCLA; his sons Laurence (Larry) and Jeffrey (Jerry); and his grandchildren Ella, Leah and Ethan.

Funeral services will be held at noon on Monday, May 12, at Eden Memorial Cemetery, 11500 Sepulveda Blvd. in Mission Hills, Calif., (818) 361-7161. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, B'nai Brith, the American Lung Association and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Media Contact:
Mark Wheeler
(310) 794-2265
[email protected]

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Media Contact

Mark Wheeler
(310) 794-2265
[email protected]