Medicine has been revolutionised by drugs that target biological processes in our body, superseding older treatments based on modified natural products. Among the pioneers of modern medicine were the American scientists Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings (insets, middle and bottom), who developed drugs that blocked the synthesis of vital nucleic acids in cancer cells, germs and parasites, without harming normal human cells. Meanwhile, studies of cell receptors by the British scientist Sir James Black (top), led him to develop propranolol, the first beta-blocking drug used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease. All three scientists shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988. Many of these drugs are still in use 25 years later and recent experiments suggest that some may have new uses – pictured is cultured tissue, stained blue, from a mouse showing that angiosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue, has been inhibited by treatment with propranolol.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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