James Black; Nobelist developed beta-blockers
LONDON — Nobel laureate pharmacologist James W. Black, whose breakthrough beta-blocker drugs help treat millions of heart patients and save thousands of lives, has died, his former university said yesterday. He was 85.
The University of Dundee in Scotland, which Dr. Black served as chancellor from 1992 to 2006, said the scientist died Sunday, but gave few further details.
In the early 1960s, Dr. Black’s discovery of the drugs propranolol and pronethalol, which work by blocking the body’s response to stress hormones, revolutionized how doctors helped heart patients.
Dr. Clyde Yancy, president of the American Heart Association, said the drugs’ discovery was “one of the few things that really deserves the moniker ‘landmark.’ ’’
“Easily millions of patients have been helped with beta-blocking therapies,’’ he said, adding that the family of drugs that grew out of Dr. Black’s work remain “the standard of care’’ despite being discovered nearly half a century ago.
Beta-blockers are so called because they block beta receptors, one of two families of receptors present in organs such as the heart and the lungs. The receptors react to hormones such as adrenaline, so blocking them can have a calming effect on the heart muscle, insulating it from stress.
Studies have shown that the use of beta-blockers in heart attack patients dramatically decreased mortality rates, and drugs based on Dr. Black’s work are still used to tackle a variety of other cardiac conditions, from abnormal heart rhythms to angina, anxiety, headaches, and high blood pressure.
Although it was his work in the field of heart treatments for which he is best known, Dr. Black also made significant discoveries in the development of drugs to treat heartburn and ulcers.
Dr. Black helped discover cimetidine, which turned peptic ulcers from a potentially life-threatening disease into a far more manageable condition.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his achievements in 1988 and received Britain’s Order of Merit, a rare honor bestowed by the queen, in 2000.
The university said Dr. Black’s funeral would be held March 29 at St. Columba’s Church in London.