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My journey from a mining community to a scholarship at St Andrews

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James Black Scientist
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The industry has espoused genomics, then transcriptomics, this RNA world, and then proteomics and then something else, and now they're into what's called systems biology. And, this is attempting, all at the subcellular level, to make sense of all these interactions which are occurring inside cells. Now, disease rarely begins inside cells. Cancer, for example, is seen as a disease of the genome – an abnormal division – but many people now regard it as a process which is driven from outside. Many cancers, for example, derive out of an inflammatory state or a viral infection, or over-production of a hormone that the... the actual initiation of the cancer may well come from outside the cell, but it's regarded by everybody in the business that it's an intracellular phenomenon. So my obsession is physiology; how cells talk to each other. We have 1000's of messenger molecules which have never been explored, really, from the point of view of controlling how the system talks to each other, so I want to go back to physiology, to messenger molecules, taking the cell as a given, and the... the system I want to analyse is the physiological system by making analogues of natural occurring molecules which we can use as tools to explore physiology.

The late Scottish pharmacologist Sir James W Black (1924-2010) revolutionised medical treatment of hypertension and angina with his invention of propranolol, the first ever beta blocker. This and his synthesis of cimetidine, used for the treatment of peptic ulcers, earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988.

Listeners: William Duncan

After graduating with a BSc Bill Duncan went on to gain a PhD from Edinburgh University in 1956. He joined the Pharmaceuticals Division of ICI where he contributed to the development of a number of drugs. In 1958, he started a collaboration with Jim Black working on beta blockers and left ICI with him in 1963 to join the Research Institute of Smith Kline & French as Head of Biochemistry. He collaborated closely with Black on the H2 antagonist programme and this work continued when, in 1968, Duncan was appointed the Director of the Research Institute. In 1979, he moved back to ICI as Deputy Chairman (Technical), a post he occupied until 1986 when he became Chairman and CEO of Coopers Animal Health. He ‘retired’ in 1989 but his retirement was short-lived and he held a number of directorships in venture capital backed companies. One of his part-time activities was membership of the Bioscience Advisory Board of Johnson and Johnson who asked him to become Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Research Institute of Johnson and Johnson in New Jersey. For personal reasons he returned to the UK in 1999, but was retained by Johnson and Johnson until 2006 in a number of senior position in R&D working from the UK. From 1999 to 2007 he was a non-executive director of the James Black Foundation. He is now fully retired.

Tags: RNA, transcriptomics, genomics, cells, cancer, physiology, proteomics, systems biology

Duration: 1 minute, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008