Black's drug discoveries arose out of his systematic research on the interactions between certain cell receptors in the body and chemicals in the bloodstream that attach to them. Black wanted to find a drug that would relieve angina pectoris, i.e., the spasms of intense pain felt in the chest when the heart is not receiving enough oxygen.
It was known that beta receptors in the heart muscle, when stimulated by the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, cause the heartbeat to quicken and increase the strength of the heart's contractions, thus increasing that organ's oxygen requirement. Black developed a drug that would block the beta receptor sites, thus preventing epinephrine and norepinephrine from attaching to them. The resulting inhibition of the hormones' excitatory effects reduced the heart's demand for oxygen and could thus help relieve anginal pain. Other beta-blocking agents were subsequently developed to treat heart attacks, hypertension, migraines, and other conditions.
Black used a similar approach to develop a drug treatment for stomach
and duodenal ulcers, which are largely caused by the stomach's oversecretion
of gastric acids. He developed a drug that could block the histamine
receptors that stimulate the secretion of gastric acid in the stomach,
and the new drug, cimetidine, revolutionized the treatment of gastric
and duodenal ulcers.
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