Cover image for Dark remedy : the impact of thalidomide and its revival as a vital medicine
Dark remedy : the impact of thalidomide and its revival as a vital medicine
Stephens, Trent D.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Perseus Pub., [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 228 pages ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
1280 Lexile.
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RA1242.T5 S74 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A remarkable medicine is now available that can successfully treat millions of people with multiple myeloma, brain tumors and other cancers, arthritis, lupus, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, leprosy, tuberculosis, and AIDS. It's thalidomide-a drug with a chilling history. In the 1950s, this "safe" sedative was all the rage in Europe. Then one baby was born without ears, another with stunted limbs, then another with no limbs at all. In all, ten thousand severely deformed babies were born before thalidomide was banned. But two years ago, this brutal toxin was approved by the FDA. How did the most infamous drug of all time become one of the major players in modern medicine?In this irresistible medical detective story, Trent Stephens and Rock Brynner recount the history of thalidomide, a fascinating tale filled with villains and heroes, and bring us up to the present day, as scientists-Stephens among them-work to create and test an alternative drug that captures thalidomide's curative properties without its cruel side effects. The chronicle of a tragic chapter in the history of public health, Dark Remedy ends with great promise, as we put thalidomide to work for us, in the treatment of over a hundred diseases.

Author Notes

Trent Stephens, Professor of Anatomy and Embryology at Idaho State University, is the author of numerous books. He has been researching thalidomide for almost twenty-five years
Rock Brynner, historian and novelist, earned his M.A. in Philosophy from Trinity College, Dublin, and his Ph.D. in History from Columbia University

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Anatomist and embryologist Stephens has studied thalidomide for 25 years and proposed the drug's mechanism for causing birth defects. Brynner, the actor's son, is a writer who has long suffered a skin disease that was untreatable until the FDA re-approved thalidomide in 1998. In the fifties and sixties, thalidomide caused limb deformities and other horrors in babies born to women who used it against anxiety during pregnancy. The drug companies that pushed thalidomide before it had been adequately tested became paragons of greed, fraudulent publicity, and disdain for patients and physicians; and their actions, especially in various court trials, still seem outrageous. Doctors Frances Kelsey and Helen Taussig played crucial roles in preventing the thalidomide disaster from worsening. Besides this tragedy, Stephens and Brynner explore the fascinating thinking and research of Jacob Sheskin, Gilla Kaplan, and others, which have revived thalidomide to fight leprosy and other diseases. Both as history and contemporary medical reporting, this is a remarkable book. --William Beatty

Publisher's Weekly Review

Thalidomide, the drug notorious for causing deformities in infants during the late 1950s and early '60s, has been back in the newsDamazingly, it has been found useful in treating a range of diseases from cancer and leprosy to AIDS. Combining Stephens's expertise as a scientist researching thalidomide and novelist and historian Brynner's (The Doomsday Report) firsthand experience as a thalidomide recipient (he was given the drug to treat t a rare inflammatory disease), this compelling tale documents the history of a drug originally offered as a "safe" alternative to barbiturates (which were used by suicides). Very soon, it came to be linked to nerve damage in adults and to "flipper-like" limbs in babies born to women who took the drug. An arduous legal battle ensued, and the authors nicely highlight such figures as the FDA's Frances Kelsey, who fought successfully against the drug being approved for use in the U.S., and pediatrician Widukind Lenz, who linked thalidomide to the birth defects. In particular, however, the authors successfully convey the necessity of placing an "absolute commitment to truth" ahead of all other considerations when testing, prescribing or selling a drug. "The monster was never thalidomide itself," they claim of the drug that sparked FDA reform. While this moving account offers a chilling glimpse of how the profit motive can negatively affect many lives, it also includes a straightforward presentation of Stephens's pioneering research with thalidomideDresearch that he hopes will contribute to developing a truly safe alternative. (Feb.) Forecast: Brynner is the late actor Yul Brynner's son. That will undoubtedly help bring publicity to this title, which will draw a wide range of readers interested in the ethics and science of medical research. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Every once in a while a book on a specialized subject appears that every library should buy. This treatment of the notorious drug thalidomide is such a work. Stephens (anatomy and embryology, Idaho State Univ.), who has studied the drug for almost 25 years, and coauthor Brynner trace its history from its synthesis as a sedative in Germany in 1954, followed by the tragic births of children with severe defects such as missing arms, and legs that resembled flippers. The pharmaceutical companies tried to cover up the link between the drug and the birth defects, and approximately 10,000 severely deformed babies were born before thalidomide was banned. To bring this medical disaster home to the reader, the authors quote Randy Warren, a Canadian "thalidomider" who refuses to call himself a victim. Stephens and Brynner then recount how scientists, including Stephens himself, began to discover almost by accident new uses for the drug without its disastrous side effects, ranging from treating symptoms of leprosy to AIDS. Today, thalidomide is approved by the FDA for a few specific conditions. This gripping book is highly recommended for all readers because it reminds us of the importance of drug regulation. Natalie Kupferberg, Biological Sciences/Pharmacy Lib., Ohio State Univ, Columbus (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In the entire annals of drug development, nothing rivals thalidomide. First marketed in the mid-1950s by a German firm as a nontoxic hypnotic and sedative safe for both children and pregnant women, thalidomide became an international best-seller, widely available without a prescription. Late in the decade came the first hint that the drug could cause monstrous deformities in babies born of mothers taking the drug. Several thousand cases of phocomelia were ultimately tied to thalidomide use in pregnancy, including several in the US where the drug was available only for clinical testing. When the smoke finally cleared, the manufacturer was bankrupt, the court system in Britain was in disarray, and a brand new process of drug testing and approval had been implemented in the US and other developed countries. And after all that, the drug came back--first as a treatment for leprosy and AIDS and now for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Biologist Stephens (Idaho State Univ.) and historian Brynner offer an understanding of this remarkable chain of events and an excellent lay explanation for the drug's dual effects. The biology works better than the history, but the story is so captivating that readers will be forgiving. Recommended. General readers; undergraduate and graduate students. B. C. Stuart University of Maryland at Baltimore

Table of Contents

Rock BrynnerTrent Stephens
Prefacep. ix
Prologuep. xi
1 An Uncertain Utopiap. 1
2 The Epidemicp. 19
3 The United States in Perilp. 39
4 The Aftermathp. 61
5 Moral Justice and the Pressp. 79
6 Reforming the FDAp. 101
7 Children's Voices, Strong and Clearp. 111
8 Lazarus Risesp. 121
9 The HIV Connectionp. 137
10 Thalidomide Approvedp. 155
11 The Mechanism of Actionp. 163
12 One Patient's Accountp. 177
13 Thalidomide and Hippocratesp. 191
Notesp. 203
Acknowledgmentsp. 215
Indexp. 217