Healthful antagonistJames W. Black

A physician and pharmacologist, in the late 1950s Black invented a new class of cardiac drug, the beta adrenergic receptor antagonist — better known as a “beta blocker.” Black’s first successful preparation, propranolol (marketed as Inderal, among other names), helps stabilize angina pectoris, protects the heart after an infarction (heart attack), helps stabilize blood pressure, and (as an odd side effect) helps prevent migraine headaches — which is why I take it. Propranolol is so successful and useful it’s still in common use today; newer uses include management of stage fright, and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Propranolol, and other beta blockers that followed, have saved or improved millions of lives. Black, a Scotsman, was knighted in 1981, awarded the Order of Merit (the highest honor given personally by the Queen to an individual) in 2000, and, in 1988, the Nobel Prize for medicine. Black’s career didn’t end there: he was also instrumental in developing another class of drug, the H2-receptor antagonist, with Cimetidine, used to treat and prevent peptic ulcers. Sir James died March 22 at 85.

From This is True for 21 March 2010