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Year of Discovery: 1988
Led a Large Clinical Trial (In Which He Was Also a Patient) Showing Aspirin Prevents Heart Attacks
Charles Hennekens is an Epidemiologist and Preventative Medicine Specialist. This means, much like a "disease detective," he traces the source of diseases and then tries to prevent them from occurring. In the early 1980s, his detective work led him to design a large scale clinical trial to uncover the benefits of aspirin therapy in healthy men. Previous small-scale observational studies (studies that do not have a control group for comparison) had reported the benefits, but Hennekens wanted to conduct strictly controlled studies to test the hypothesis. A Harvard graduate, Hennekens designed The Physicians Health Study, a randomized controlled trial which enrolled 22,071 male physicians. The trial began in 1982 and lasted a full decade, during which Hennekens acted as both clinician and study participant. A key element of this study was to determine whether aspirin was effective in reducing the risk of heart attack. So, some people took an aspirin a day. Others took a pill but there was no aspirin in it – it was a fake or a placebo. After observing the staggering reduction in risk of a first heart attack (44%), the aspirin component of the trial was terminated at the end of five-years. The results were so stunning, it was decided the placebo group should be allowed to start taking aspirin too!
Hennekens based his study on previous indications that aspirin hinders the grouping together of blood platelets to form clots, which are a leading cause of heart attacks. Platelets are the blood cells which help the blood clot. There were also indications that treating heart attack patients with aspirin lowered the risk of suffering a second heart attack. For Hennekens, this raised the question of whether healthy individuals might also benefit from aspirin. The breakthrough results of his clinical trial answered with a resounding yes!
Hennekens also demonstrated aspirin's effectiveness as a treatment after an event. In a separate study, he found that aspirin given within 24 hours of a suspected heart attack reduced subsequent heart attack, stroke, and death from related heart problems. He reported, "Those having a heart attack will have a far lower risk of having a second heart attack, a stroke, or their death rate is lowered almost a quarter. Aspirin has the best benefit to risk ratio and benefit to cost ratio of any therapy of acute heart attacks."
According to Bayer Corporation, over 80 million aspirin tablets are taken each and every day in the
Introduction by April Ingram
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