M. L. Hawking
A True Story Of Faith and Resolve
Hypertension is one of the most widespread dangerous diseases of this century affecting the young as well as the elderly. It can lead to other, more dangerous conditions, coronary and brain diseases among them.
The two main causes of hypertension are stress and being overweight conditions associated with the life-style of the materially wealthy, industrialized nations. (We may note in passing that Islam forbids excessive consumption whether in or in goods, and it requires the believers to halt their daily routines at least five times a day for prayer - and prayer, standing or sitting in the presence of the All-Mighty, gives due proportion to all human affairs, enabling the worshipper to obtain or recover calm of body and mind.) .
Doctors nowadays recommend patients with hypertension to eat less salty foods, to avoid becoming overweight and to keep fit by doing light but regular, frequent exercise. But; before that, doctors ask them to give up drinking and smoking if they indulge in these habits. (Again, we note in passing that the life-style being recommended makes up a prescription as familiar to Muslims as the Qur'an and Sunna.)
Hypertension adversely affects blood pressure; to keep the pressure at normal level, the blood vessels constrict. That constriction may, in turn, cause damage when it passes beyond certain limits. It can overload the heart, soon leading to coronary vascu1ai diseases. On the other hand, excessive blood pressure not reduced by constriction of the blood vessels may damage the vessels and, subsequently, lead on to brain and liver diseases.
The first measurement of human blood pressure was taken in 1834. An apparatus like the type most commonly used today was introduced in 1896, with some operative improvements in 1906 (Weinstein, 1976). We meet the first accurate descriptions of what we now know as 'essential hypertension' in a series of clinical papers by F. A. Mohammed between 1874 and 1881 (Page, 1988).
It comes as a surprise to learn that hypertension was first recognized as a serious health problem only in the late 1930s. During the 1920s, the textbooks used in leading medical schools throughout the world made no mention of hypertension as a problem, let alone as a disease. The association of hypertension with stroke, heart failure and renal failure was still nebulous (Page, 1988).
A research group under Irvine Page were trying to demonstrate the connection between hypertension and coronary heart diseases and to convince the authorities of the time about the importance of treatment for hypertension. When this group announced, with another group of researchers, that they had found a hormone which is very important in the regulation of blood pressure, there was little or no interest. Page's group had named the hormone 'angiotonin', while the others had named it 'hypertension'. The two groups got together and agreed on the name 'angiotensin' for the hormone. Page suggested that angiotensin was one of the important factors in blood pressure regulation. The active form of this hormone, Axigiotensin-2, caused the blood vessels to constrict so that the blood pressure could be kept at a certain level. Therefore, hypertension could be relieved by preventing the synthesis of this hormone.
As the years passed, the number of researchers and organizations working in the field (as well as funding) increased dramatically. Drugs like 'captopril' and 'enalapril' were developed, which would block the production of angiotensin and hence give some temporary relief to sufferers of hypertension. Today, hypertension is a major medical research area usually carried on under the broad category of brain and cardiovascular research.
When Dr Ibrahim Benter, A Muslim chemist and doctor, came to the Cleveland Clinic to work as a research scientist. Dr Ferrario was the head of the brain and cardiovascular research department. Having worked with Irvine Page at the Cleveland Clinic earlier, Dr Ferrario had been interested in angiotensin for several years.
He had previously shown that Angiotensin 1-7 a trimmed version of the hormone Angiotensin-2, was synthesized in various sites in the human body. However, he was somehow unable to show its effects via live-animal experiments. Despite his reputation, his articles on this particular subject were rejected everywhere. One reason for this was the consensus of the research community that submolecules of Angiotensin-2 were ineffective. After several years of fruitless research, Dr Ferrario had begun to lose hope.
The story of Angiotensin 1-7 attracted Dr Benter's interest. He had a simple and sound principle: 'The All-Mighty would never create something that is useless.' Since angiotensin was synthesized in various places in the body, it should have a definite function. He decided to do some experiments in his own lime during his stay in the Cleveland Clinic. When he mentioned his idea to colleagues some of them smiled and told him not to waste his time. Briefly, they were saying 'We spent several years and got nothing out of this research; you should not make the same mistake.' Everybody seemed to have convinced themselves that Angiotensin 1-7 was useless.
However, Dr Benter was determined. He began his experiments using his own set-up and techniques in the expectation of turning up something missed or neglected in previously used methods. Dr Ferrario, having noticed Dr Benter's efforts, visited him from time to time to see if anything new had turned up. When several trials yielded no positive findings, Dr Ferrario gave up all hope. Not so Dr Benter. I us determination was grounded on his belief that all scientific research is like a prayer to the All-Mighty, and that discoveries are part of the results of the acceptance of these prayers. Since God is the One who makes all progress possible our duty is to work with faith in a systematic way.
Shortly afterwards, he received the reward for his patience, faith and determination. Angiotensin 1-7 was not useless at all. It was a hormone with a function of profound importance - it was just that certain mechanisms in the body hid its effects from being easily observed. When he determined those mechanisms and disabled them, he clearly observed the effects of Angiotensin 1-7. The results were very significant. When acting alone, Angiotensin 1-7 lowered the blood pressure considerably; it could therefore be used as the basis For a new medicine against hypertension, one with fewer side- effects (sec Renter. 1992).
On learning about Ibrahim Benter's findings, Dr Ferrario gathered all the researchers in the department in Ibrahim's lab: he wanted them all to see the results. As his colleagues watched the gauges with awe and surprise. Ibrahim was silently thanking his Lord for the success He had bestowed.
They quickly prepared an article, sent grant proposals to relevant institutions and requested support for further research. The response was positive. They were given a research fund of approximately 1.5 million dollars to continue their study. When the official from the funding institution visited them, he said privately to Ibrahim Benter 'without your findings, this grant would not be possible'.
Dr Ibrahim Benter is probably even now continuing his research on Angiotensin 1-7. When interviewed on the subject, he explicitly asked the following comment to be made public:
This achievement, for which many other more experienced and skilled researchers worked fruitlessly was made possible only by God's help.'
The story we have just told, is perhaps one example among countless others which demonstrate the role of faith and determination in achievement. If it was successful in bringing an important fact to our attention, or refreshing our confidence in it, then our telling the story has served its purpose.
- BENTER IBRAHIM (I 993) 'Cardiovascular Actions of Angiotensin 1-7', Peptides, Vol.14. pp.679-89
- PAGE, Revise n. (1988) Hypertension Research: a memoir. Pergamon Press. NewYork.
- WEINSTEIN, MILTON C. (1976) Hypertension: A Policy Perspective. Harvard University Press. Cambridge MA.