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Dr. James Black: Saving Lives, and Saving Symphonies

Posted at 9:29 AM on March 24, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: In the media, The blog

The New York Times says "[His] discoveries are considered among the most important medical advances in the 20th century, and the drugs have been among the most prescribed in the world."

Nobel Prize-winning pharmacologist Dr. James Black died March 22, at age 85.
He developed two of the world's most important medicines - H2 antagonists, used for treating gastric ulcers, and beta-blockers, effective against heart disease.

But there's more to beta-blockers than heart disease. They're also widely used by professional musicians for treating symptoms of stage fright. A survey by the International Conference of Symphony Orchestra Musicians revealed that 27% of the musicians in the 51 largest orchestras in the United States had used beta blockers for performance anxiety related issues.

In 2004, the New York Times reported on this phenomenon, with stories from many distinguished musicians who find beta-blockers to be an invaluable tool in an extremely high-stress profession where missed notes can cost you your job.

So next time you're at a symphony orchestra concert, enjoying a highly polished, musical performance, there's a good chance that some of the credit goes to Dr. James Black.