James Black

(b. 1924)

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(1924– )

British biochemist, born in Scotland, who shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1988 for his development of two important drugs, propranalol and cimetidine. He was knighted in 1981.

Born in Uddingston, Scotland, he graduated in medicine at the University of St Andrews in 1946 and subsequently occupied a series of university teaching posts before joining ICI as a senior pharmacologist in 1958. In 1964 he was appointed head of biological research at Smith Kline and French Laboratories, moving in 1978 to the Wellcome Research Laboratories as director of therapeutic research; from 1984 until 1993 he was professor of analytical pharmacology at King's College Hospital Medical School at the University of London.

In the course of his research, Black sought a drug to relieve angina pectoris. His first success was to isolate a substance that would block the beta-receptors of the heart muscle, to prevent their stimulation by adrenalin or noradrenalin. The result of this work was the drug propranalol, which was the first of a now quite large group of so-called beta-blockers. These are widely used to control hypertension, angina, and other serious heart conditions. Based on the success of this work, Black then sought a drug to assist in the control of stomach and duodenal ulcers. He succeeded in producing cimetidine, which has been highly successful in blocking the histamine receptors, which stimulate the secretion of the stomach acids, oversecretion of which are the basic cause of gastric ulcers. Both these drugs have been instrumental in saving many lives and in improving the quality of life for countless sufferers of angina and gastric ulcers.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Science and Mathematics.

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