It was mainly prescribed to pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s, to help with sleep, until it was found to be a teratogen (that is: birth deformity causing substance). The drug can cause birth defects in rats, primates and humans. Before the drug was released, not enough tests were done.
About 10,000 children were born with deformities, between 1956, and 1962. These could be directly linked to the fact that their mothers had taken the drug during their pregnancy. After this discovery, more rigorous tests were required in the United States, before a drug can be said to be safe to take during pregnancy. Other countries made similar laws. Thalidomide was not used as a drug for decades.
Researchers continued to look for ways to use the drug. They discovered that it had good effects on certain types of skin diseases, associated with leprosy. Currently, studies are being done to see how this drug could help with cancer treatment, as well as some other, less-known diseases. It has been used in Multiple myeloma treatment with success.
- Johnson M; Stokes R.G. & Arndt T. 2018. The Thalidomide Catastrophe. Cranbrook, Exeter: Onwards & Upwards. ISBN 978-1-78815-629-5
- Knightley P. & Evans H 1979. Suffer The Children: The Story of Thalidomide. New York: The Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-68114-8
- A review of The Thalidomide Catastrophe finds "The manufacturer's claim that they had no warning that its wonder drug produced irreversible nerve damage in those who took it... let alone birth defects, is laid to rest". Review by Geoff Adams-Spink in the London Evening Standard, 5 July 2018.
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Source: Data courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Since the data might have changed, please query MeSH on Thalidomide for any updates.