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Thalidomide Babies

Thalidomide Babies


Thalidomide is used as a first-line treatment in multiple myeloma in combination with dexamethasone or with melphalan and prednisone, to treat acute episodes of erythema nodosum leprosum, and for maintenance therapy.Thalidomide is used off-label in several ways.

The bacterium that causes tuberculosis is related to leprosy. Thalidomide may be helpful in some cases where standard TB drugs and corticosteroids are not sufficient to resolve severe inflammation in the brain.

It is used as a second-line treatment to manage graft versus host disease and aphthous stomatitis in children and has been prescribed for other conditions in children including actinic prurigo and epidermolysis bullosa; the evidence for these uses is weak.[11] It is recommended only as a third line treatment in graft versus host disease in adults, based on lack of efficacy and side effects observed in clinical trials.

The aftermath and thalidomide’s controversial rehabilitation

There was a long criminal trial in Germany and a British newspaper campaign. They forced Grünenthal and its British licensee, the Distillers Company, to financially support victims of the drug. Thalidomide led to tougher testing and drug approval procedures in many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

In 1964 a leprosy patient at Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital was given thalidomide when other tranquilisers and painkillers failed. The Israeli doctor Jacob Sheskin noticed the drug also reduced other leprosy symptoms. Research into thalidomide’s effects on leprosy resulted in a 1967 World Health Organisation (WHO) clinical trial. Positive results saw thalidomide used against leprosy in many developing countries. It is also used successfully to control some AIDS-related conditions, and its effects on various cancers are under investigation.

The renewed use of thalidomide remains controversial. The positive effects are undeniable. However, there is a risk of new thalidomide births, particularly in countries where controls may not be efficient. Black-market trade of unlicensed thalidomide by people with leprosy may increase the risks.

How it happened

THALIDOMIDE was first marketed to people as a sedative, or sleeping pill, in 1957 in West Germany, then under the name Contergan.

It started to be prescribed to pregnant women when it was found to help nausea and morning sickness

Only later was the drug found to seriously harm the development of unborn babies and cause major birth defects, especially if it was taken in the first eight weeks of pregnancy.

The drug led to the arms and legs of babies being very short or imperfectly formed. Other side effects included deformed eyes, ears and hearts.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, 10,000 children were born with thalidomide-related disabilities worldwide. Around 40 per cent died at birth or very shortly after.

The drug was withdrawn in 1961 before the UK government issued a warning in May 1962.

Thalidomide is still used as a treatment for leprosy and bone cancer – but its use is heavily regulated to prevent a repeat of the problems it caused in the previous century.

What damage to babies does thalidomide cause?

The main impairments caused by thalidomide affect the limbs and are usually bilateral – either both arms or both legs or all four limbs. The most severe impairment is known as phocomelia which is a condition where the long bones of some or all limbs are misshapen and where the hands and feet, which can be either mostly fully-formed, malformed or rudimentary, arise almost on the trunk.

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