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James Whyte Black
|Died||22 March 2010
|Alma mater||University College, Dundee|
|Known for||work towards the use of propranolol and cimetidine|
|Awards||Lasker award (1976)
Artois-Baillet Latour Health Prize (1979)
Wolf Prize in Medecine (1982)
Nobel Prize for Medicine (1988)
Royal Medal (2004)
|Institutions||University of Glasgow
University College London
King's College London
University of St Andrews
University of Malaya
Sir James Whyte Black, OM, FRS, FRSE, FRCP (14 June 1924 – 22 March 2010) was a Scottish doctor and pharmacologist. Black started in the physiology department at the University of Glasgow. While there, he became interested in how adrenaline affected the human heart. He went to work for ICI Pharmaceuticals in 1958. While working for ICI, he created propranolol. Propranolol is a beta blocker, used to treat heart disease. Black also created cimetidine. It is a drug used to treat stomach ulcers. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988 for creating these drugs.
Early life and education
Black was born in Uddingston, Lanarkshire. He was the fourth of five sons of a Baptist family. His father was a mining engineer. He grew up in Fife. Black went to Beath High School, Cowdenbeath. At the age of 15, he won a scholarship to the University of St Andrews. At St Andrews, he studied medicine. He graduated in 1946.
After graduating he joined the Physiology department at University College as an Assistant Lecturer. He later took a lecturer position at the University of Malaya. Black had decided against a career as a medical practitioner as he objected to what he perceived as the insensitive treatment of patients at the time.
After graduation, Black took a teaching job in Singapore for three years. He moved to London in 1950. Later in 1950, he returned to Scotland. He joined the University of Glasgow (Veterinarian School). There that he became interesteed in how adrenaline affects the human heart. He was mainly interesting in how it affected people with angina. He found the effects of adrenaline did not help. He joined ICI Pharmaceuticals in 1958. He worked with the company until 1964. During this time, he created propranolol, which became the world's best-selling drug. While at ICI, Black developed a new way of doing research. Before this, drug molecules would be created and then tested to find in what ways the molecules could be used as medicine. Black chose to pick a medical use and then try to create the molecules for that medicine. The discovery of propranolol was said to be the greatest discovery in the treatment of heart disease since the discovery of digitalis.
At the same time, Black was trying to find a treatment for stomach ulcers. ICI did not wish to do this so Black stopped working for them in 1964. He joined Smith, Kline and French. He worked for them for nine years until 1973. While there, Black developed his second major drug, cimetidine. It was first sold under the brand name Tagamet in 1975. Tagamet soon outsold propranolol to become the world's largest-selling prescription drug.
Black became the department head of pharmacology at University College London in 1973. He created a new undergraduate course in medicinal chemistry. He had many problems trying to get money for research, so he quit. He went to work for Wellcome Research Laboratories in 1978. He worked there until 1984. Black then became Professor of Analytical Pharmacology at the Rayne Institute of King's College London medical school. He stayed there until 1992. He created the James Black Foundation in 1988 with money from Johnson and Johnson. He worked with 25 scientists in drugs research. This research included gastrin inhibitors which may stop some stomach cancers.
Black helped increase basic scientific and clinical knowledge in cardiology. His creation of propranolol is thought to be one of the most important contributions to clinical medicine and pharmacology of the 20th century. Propranolol has helped millions of people.
Honours and awards
Black was made a Knight Bachelor on 10 February 1981 for services to medical research. He received the honour from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. On 26 May 2000 he was appointed to the Order of Merit by the Queen.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1976. That same year he was awarded the Lasker award. In 1979, he was awarded the Artois-Baillet Latour Health Prize. In 1982 Black was awarded the Wolf Prize in Medicine. He was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Gertrude B. Elion and George H. Hitchings for their work on drug development. In 1994 he received the Ellison-Cliffe Medal from the Royal Society of Medicine.
- James Black tells his life story at Web of Stories (video)
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