Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Physiologist Discovered the Mechanisms Underlying How Salt Causes High Blood Pressure
Dr. Mordecai P. Blaustein, MD, professor of physiology and medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, has been honored as a recipient of the prestigious Novartis Award for Hypertension Research.
Dr. Blaustein received the award, one of the highest honors in the hypertension research field, at the annual conference of the American Heart Association's Council for High Blood Pressure Research in Atlanta, Ga., on Friday, September 19.
The award recognizes Dr. Blaustein’s groundbreaking discoveries exploring the biological mechanisms by which salt raises blood pressure. "It’s been well-documented that if you retain too much salt, your blood pressure goes up," Dr. Blaustein says. "Most people are interested only in why we retain too much salt, but my research helps to explain how. This could lead to new treatments for high blood pressure, and even new methods of predicting which patients will be prone to high blood pressure."
"Dr. Blaustein is being honored for basic science studies demonstrating how excess salt intake causes high blood pressure," said L. Gabriel Navar, Ph.D., chair of the American Heart Association's Council for High Blood Pressure Research and professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at Tulane University School of Medicine. "His studies demonstrated for the first time the release of an endogenous digitalis-like compound. This compound, called ouabain (WA-bane), inhibits the sodium-transporting membranes and leads to increases in calcium inside the cells, which causes contractions of the blood vessels, leading to increased blood pressure."
During more than 40 years of work, Dr. Blaustein and his colleagues have made important basic science discoveries to explain the link between salt and hypertension. These include a hormone that originates in the body that is very similar to a plant compound called ouabain. Dr. Blaustein and his colleagues call it endogenous ouabain because it is identical to the plant compound but is endogenous to the human body. A second factor is the sodium pump, a protein that controls the amount of sodium in cells and that is regulated by ouabain. The third factor is the sodium-calcium exchanger, which Dr. Blaustein discovered. Dr. Blaustein has determined how these three factors interact and cause the contraction of blood vessels that lead to salt-dependent hypertension.
Dr. Blaustein’s laboratory at the University of Maryland School of Medicine is examining how to manipulate these factors to prevent blood pressure elevation. With collaborators in the U.S., Italy and Japan, Dr. Blaustein also is working to predict which patients will be prone to high blood pressure, with hopes of treating them proactively.
Since he began his work four decades ago, Dr. Blaustein has steadily built the case for his hypothesis, even in the face of skepticism from some colleagues. He has answered criticism with solid scientific evidence and has watched other laboratories worldwide corroborate his findings over the past four decades.
"Dr. Blaustein’s research has helped set the stage for our current understanding of the role of sodium in blood pressure regulation," says Meredith Bond, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Despite the resistance that he has faced from some in the field of blood pressure regulation, his extraordinary scientific contributions over the past 40 years demonstrate the scientific heights that can be scaled as a result of a combination of dedication, passion, persistence, intellect and drive."
The Novartis Award for Hypertension Research has been presented to outstanding scientists in the field each year since 1966, when the American Heart Association first began to recognize the relevance of hypertension to heart health.