1957 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award

Treatment of hypertension

The story of Rauwolfia serpentina is an example of a block in medical communication that, in retrospect, seems hard to understand. This drug had been used in the ancient Ayurveda medicine of India for hundreds of years and had been the subject of modern scientific research in India since at least 1931; it had been repeatedly reported as a psychiatric and anti-hypertensive therapy in the technical journals of India, and these publications were available in scientific libraries everywhere. Yet while innumerable fruitless leads were being followed by Western medicine, this important one was overlooked until attention was finally focused on it by Dr. Vakil. In a historical paper on the use of Rauwolfia in hypertension which appeared in the British Heart Journal in 1949, he summed up 10 years of careful conscientious work that he had carried out personally, added the opinions of some 50 other physicians who had worked with Rauwolfia in hypertension, and produced a document which brought this drug finally and decisively into Western medicine. The Rauwolfia alkaloid, reserpine, was soon found to be a powerful tranquilizing agent and was identified as a valuable addition to psychiatric therapy. But more than that, together with chlorpromazine, it opened the way for an entirely new method of study of mental disorder itself.