John Oates: A closer look  pg. 3

Artom listened politely, told Oates his ideas were interesting, and then redirected him to work on phospholipids—the fatty molecules that constitute the cell’s membrane and are the starting materials for the production of many signaling molecules.

The seeds were sown. Both cardiovascular biology and lipid biology would become recurring themes in Oates’s research career.

His time in the Artom laboratory was likely responsible for his success in obtaining an internship position at Cornell Medical Center, Oates says. “I wasn’t the top student in my class ... and that was a great institution.”

John Oates during a family whitewater rafting trip on the Nantahala River in North Carolina in 1991 (Oates is front right);
Photo courtesy of the Oates family
At Cornell, Oates was introduced to the idea of joining another great institution, the National Institutes of Health. The “Doctor Draft” implemented at the start of the Korean War was still in place, and Oates was prepared to enter the Air Force when he learned that a fellow resident was going to the NIH instead of into the Army.

He applied and was offered a clinical associate position at the NIH.

“I think I was fortunate that I was in a house staff program where there were bright people who were interested in research and one of them put me onto this opportunity at the NIH,” Oates says.

The move to Bethesda proved to be a key one.

The thrill of discovery

One night in 1959, Oates headed back into the lab at the National Heart Institute—now the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute—with the sense that he and his team were onto something big. The graph he charted from the day’s data didn’t let him down. He called one of his colleagues at home at 11 p.m. to relate the news: the drug they were studying appeared to lower blood pressure.

It was the first time Oates remembers feeling the thrill of discovery, and he was hooked.

“It’s incredibly exciting, to be working on something for a long time, and then all of a sudden—bang!—it’s there, something new that nobody has ever seen before,” he says. “In this case, it’s fair to say that we all had hoped the drug might have an effect on blood pressure in humans, but there was no precedent for it in prior animal studies.”

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