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Diversity in STEM

Recognizing Inventors Who Have Helped Us Treat High Blood Pressure

May is High Blood Pressure Education Month, a time to raise awareness about heart health and managing blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can put people at risk for heart disease and stroke.

This High Blood Pressure Education Month, explore a handful of outstanding National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductees who developed impressive innovations to treat hypertension.


John Baer, Karl H. Beyer Jr., Frederick Novello and James Sprague

Inductees John Baer, Karl Beyer, Frederick Novello and James Sprague provide an outstanding example of the power of collaboration. Each one had a part to play in the invention of thiazide diuretics (chlorothiazide), the first class of drugs to safely and effectively treat high blood pressure.

Baer, a pharmacologist, Beyer, a pharmacologist and physician, and organic chemists Novello and Sprague collectively developed chlorothiazide while working at Merck & Co. Inc. This was the first FDA-approved diuretic to inhibit reabsorption of sodium and chloride ions in the kidneys without upsetting electrolyte balance, giving physicians a new and better way to reduce the risk of heart attacks and heart failure by lowering blood pressure.

In the 1950s, at the time of their invention, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the U.S. Many of the medications used to treat heart disease were difficult to use and had toxic side effects. By developing a safe and effective alternative, these four innovators significantly contributed to the dramatic decline of cardiac-related episodes. In fact, their development of thiazides was shown to reduce cardiovascular events, hospitalization and sudden death by more than 90% in a group studied in 1967.


Miguel Angel Ondetti and David Wayne Cushman

In another outstanding display of teamwork, Inductees Miguel Angel Ondetti and David Wayne Cushman developed captopril, an oral drug that significantly reduces hypertension in more than 80% of users. Having no side effects on the central or autonomic nervous systems, captopril was the first in a lifesaving class of drugs known as angiotensin converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitors.

With an understanding of how a Brazilian pit viper’s venom could inhibit the production of angiotensin II, which causes narrowing of the blood vessels and increased blood pressure, Ondetti and Cushman identified, purified and synthesized the key substance. They made their breakthrough in 1974 after years of trying to make the drug in pill form.

Thanks to their contribution, doctors can effectively treat patients with congestive heart failure, diabetes mellitus, chronic renal insufficiency and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.


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Learn about the inventions and stories of more world-changing Inductees here.

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