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Dr. Jacques Genest, a world-renowned biomedical researcher who helped find a treatment for hypertension, died in January 2018.

Courtesy of the family

World-renowned biomedical researcher Dr. Jacques Genest, who died in Montreal on Jan. 5 at the age of 98, helped find a treatment for hypertension. His breakthrough in the 1950s was finding the link between the hormone aldosterone and sodium; in plain English, he found the connection between salt and high blood pressure. A pioneer in medical research in Quebec, he started scientific research at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Montreal and later founded the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal (IRCM).

Dr. Genest was a superstar in the world of medical research. He wrote more than 700 papers and contributed to three books, including one called Hypertension, which was the bible on the subject for decades. He received a long list of awards, including 12 honorary degrees, and was a companion of the Order of Canada, the highest level, which is limited to 165 living people.

"His most significant clinical contribution was the treatment of hypertension by multiple medications, altering the natural course of a once-fatal disease into a very manageable one," said his son, Dr. Jacques Genest Jr., who is a cardiologist and medical researcher at McGill University.

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Both the younger Dr. Genest and Dr. Tarik Moroy, the current head of the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal, give the former U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt as an example of someone who died relatively young because of hypertension. The gaunt, grey, Roosevelt was a sick man when he travelled to Yalta in the Soviet Union in February, 1945, to negotiate with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. He died of a heart attack in April, 1945, at the age of 63.

"Roosevelt had high blood pressure of over 220 diagnosed by his physician and, at the time, the physician wasn't really sure why. It's ridiculous to leave someone with this high blood pressure today unattended," Dr. Moroy says. "Dr. Genest was a major player in the field of hypertension."

Jacques Genest was born in Montreal on May 29, 1919. He liked to point out that was the date that a feature of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, that light could be bent by gravity, was proved during a total solar eclipse. Dr. Genest joked that it contributed to his future scientific success.

His father, Rosario, a lawyer, sent Jacques to Collège Jean de Brébeuf, the Jesuit classical college that educated prominent Quebeckers from Pierre Trudeau to Robert Bourassa.

He graduated from the University of Montreal in medicine in 1942, and after residence at the Hôtel Dieu hospital, he studied for many years at top universities in the United States, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the Rockefeller Institute.

"His interest in a scientific approach to patient care stemmed from his intense curiosity and the rejection of the dogmatic approach taught by many of his European-trained professors," his son said.

Dr. Genest returned to Montreal and Hôtel Dieu hospital, where he established the first clinical research department in Canada, where practising medical doctors and scientists worked side-by-side to understand the causes of disease. Some of the doctors objected to Dr. Genest doing pure research while they treated patients.

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His research work expanded, encouraged by the hospital and the government of Quebec. In 1967, he acquired some land from a sympathetic order of nuns, many of whom had been helping operate hospitals in Quebec, and established the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal.

"The institute does biomedical research. It is an academic setting affiliated with universities and particularly with the University of Montreal, since it's a francophone Quebec institution, but also associated with McGill University. So we have graduate students from both universities in our labs," Dr. Moroy says.

Dr. Genest operated the Institute from 1967 to 1984 and oversaw its physical expansion and its marriage of science and practical medicine.

"The institute has outpatient clinics within the building, which is a unique situation; usually, you have research institutes in hospitals and within big universities in Toronto and Montreal, but this institute has laboratories and outpatient research clinics within the same building, Dr. Moroy says.

"The clinicians and the researchers talk to each other, and the rift that exists between a practising medical doctor and a PhD lab scientist is bridged, and they talk to each other on how to discover mechanisms of diseases and find a therapy."

Dr. Genest was on the first list of people awarded an Order of Canada in 1967 for "his study of the role of hormones in arterial hypertension in men." In 2007, he and the artist Alex Colville were the two people from that first cohort who were present at the 100th investiture awards.

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He was also an officer of the Ordre national du Québec. Quebec's chief scientist, Remi Quirion, said Dr. Genest understood "the significance of developing research by fostering its expansion within hospitals, from patients' bedsides."

Dr. Genest was a scientist and also a practising Roman Catholic.

"His life was motivated by three principles. He was strongly religious, having been raised in a very Christian family and attending a Jesuit school. He never deviated from his faith. The second is the importance of the family as the knot that binds society together. Lastly, he had an open mind to science," his son said.

"On a personal note, he was a wonderful husband to his wife, Estelle, with whom he had been married for nearly 65 years. As a father, he was loving and caring and provided a nurturing, if somewhat strict, environment. He certainly shaped my career."

Dr. Genest leaves his children, Paul, Suzanne, Jacques, Marie and Hélène, and extended family.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this story, a researcher was quoted who attributed the discovery of a factor know as ANP (atrial natriuretic peptide) to Dr. Genest. In fact, while Dr. Genest was involved in the unravelling of the structure of ANP, the original discovery of ANP was made by Dr. Adolfo de Bold, now at University of Ottawa.
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