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Listen or download interview (mp3, 30 minutes, 28MB)
For 20 years, physician-scientist Richard Lifton has been hunting the genetic roots of high blood pressure—a common condition and major risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Lifton came from a medical family and knew early on he wanted to be both a doctor and a researcher, as his father was. After completing both an MD and a Ph.D. at Stanford University and a medical residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, he cast about for a good use of his skills and curiosity, and decided to take on the hypertension he saw in so many of his patients.
He focused on the extremes of high and low blood pressure, cases where patients measured well above or below the normal 120/80. Through studies of 5,000 families in 50 countries, Lifton found the unexpected culprit behind their disorder: a mutation in a gene that helps control how the kidneys regulate salt. His discovery explained the long-observed but poorly understood connection between blood pressure and salt, and why it was so difficult for hypertensive patients to control their salt consumption. His work has since changed how doctors treat hypertension. Lifton continues to work at the crossroads of medicine and research, and currently chairs the department of genetics at Yale University. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001.
Last Updated: 06-08-2009
The audio files linked above are part of the National Academy of Sciences InterViews series. Opinions and statements included in these audio files are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academy of Sciences.