Wellcome Image of the Month: Beta Blockers
There’s a lot to get your heart racing in February: Charles Dickens Day (Feb 7), Darwin Day (Feb 12), Valentine’s Day (Feb 14), Pancake Day (Feb 21), but perhaps most importantly, and shamelessly linking us to February’s Wellcome Image of the Month, is National Wear Red Day (Feb 24) organised by the British Heart Foundation.
Founded by a group of medical professionals in 1961, the British Heart Foundation have been funding research into the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of heart disease, and National Wear Red Day is part of their Red for Heart campaign which is running throughout February as part of National Heart Month.
The image above is a false-coloured scanning electron micrograph of beta blocker crystals. Beta blockers are a group of drugs that block the action of adrenaline and noradrenaline (fight-or-flight chemicals) on β-adrenergic receptors found, amongst other locations, in the heart, kidneys and skeletal muscle. They widen blood vessels, slow down heart rate and reduce the force at which blood is pumped around the body, resulting in a drop in blood pressure. For this reason, beta blockers are routinely used as treatment for cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, heart failure and many other cardiovascular diseases. They are also effective at reducing the symptoms of anxiety such as palpitations and fast heart rate.
One of the first clinically used beta blockers, propranolol, was synthesised by Sir James Black (Scottish doctor and pharmacologist) in 1958. It was one of the most significant contributions to pharmacology in the 20th century, revolutionising the medical management of angina (chest pain) at the time. Propranolol is still used today, but many more refined and selective beta blockers have been developed, including atenolol, crystals of which are pictured above. Atenolol is specific to β1-adrenergic receptors (located mostly in the heart and kidneys) and was introduced as a replacement for propranolol in the treatment of hypertension.
February is an exciting time, but look after your heart and stick to colourful microscopic images of beta blockers instead of the prescription kind. And don’t forget to support National Heart Month by wearing red on Friday February 24.
Ruth Milne, Wellcome Images
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