Thalidomide. The word alone evokes horror from those who recall the epidemic of birth defects that swept the world in the early 1960s...FIRST THE STATISTICS:
BOOK #: 19
CHALLENGES: We Didn't Start the Fire, 100+ Books Challenge, A to Z Titles
PUBLISHER: Perseus Publishing (c) 2001
GENRE: NF, History, Medicine, Health
RATING: 3.5 Stars
This well-researched book tells the story of the rise and fall and subsequent rise of the drug thalidomide.
I have been trying all day to write a synopsis for this book but I can't figure out how to write one that is as perfectly succienct as the one inside the jacket flap, so here is what is written there:
Thalidomide. The word alone evokes horror from those who recall the epidemic of birth defects that swept the world in the early 1960s: Thousands of women took the "safe" new drug as a sleep aid or to relieve morning sickness only to find that their infants were born with stunted limbs, or sometimes no limbs at all.
In this riveting medical detective story, scientist Trent Stephens and historian Rock Brynner show how thalidomide rose out of the horror of WWII into the brave new world of utopian science. In the process, they introduce an unforgettable array of characters, including the former Nazi medical officer who developed the drug and the indomitable FDA official who prevented it from reaching American mothers. From an industrial lab in Germany to the White House Rose Garden, from a trial in the House of Lords to a Senate chamber, from a brewery in England to a Louisiana leper colony, Dark Remedy traces the epic journey of this most peculiar drug.
But thalidomide isn't just a drug with a past. Scientists are now finding it to be an indespensible medicine for those with rare, chronic, or life-threatening diseases--everything from cancer to rheumatoid arthritis to HIV/AIDS. Research of the drug could lead to alternative medicines that capture thalidomide's healing properties without its cruel side effects, or to new therapies entirely.
As you can see, a difficult book to summarize!
I had not heard of thalidomide before but found its history to be fascinating. The epidemic that occurred was devastating. I am surprised that I had not come across more documentaries or Discovery Health shows about it. Apparently the impact was not as devastating in the U.S. because of one FDA pharmacologist named Dr. Kelsey. He refused approval of the drug here because more study was needed (which, as a side note, made me slightly less grumpy that it takes the FDA so long to approve new drugs while they are available in Europe.) However, the drug was still distributed by the maker to doctors with the "warning" that the drug was still under investigation. Apparently, that warning was taken pretty lightly by some medical professionals because it still reached American mothers. Still, Dr. Kelsey did a lot to minimize the damage by not approving the drug at the time.
I Googled some pictures of birth defects that came as a direct result of thalidomide and it was so heartbreaking. Like the summary states, there were children born with extra toes and children missing arms and children with out legs, just a foot adjoined to the hip.
Reading about the epidemic and looking at these pictures, I found it ver interesting that this drug could possibly be used to treat cancers, macular degeneration, even AIDS. Apparently there is one scientist right now in the U.S. who is allowed to pursue thalidomide research. The drug has already been approved by the FDA to treat lesions associated with leprosy.
If you are interested in learning about the thalidomide epidemic, what seemed to be the trigger in the drug that caused the birth defects, and how it has become now an approved drug to treat some conditions, pick up Dark Remedy. It is a wordy book, but definitely well-researched and written as much for the layperson to understand as possible.
Have you heard of thalidomide before? Do you remember the epidemic? Do you know any stories about thalidomide? Please share in the comments! I'm interested!