Thalidomide, the notorious sedative that caused a wave of birth defects in the 1950s and 1960s, is "on its way to a second act," says Amanda Schaffer in Slate. The drug caused a scandal after women who had taken it as a cure for morning sickness gave birth to phocomelic children — with undeveloped or missing limbs and features. But 50 years later, the drug is steadily gaining respectability after being approved by the FDA for the treatment of leprosy and bone marrow cancer, and, astonishingly, showing promise as an "immune booster for the elderly." If this keeps up, the "most reviled drug of the 20th century" might end up being a significant lifesaver in the 21st, writes Schaffer. Here's an excerpt:
Today, scientists are investigating [thalidomide] and a close chemical cousin, to treat conditions from lupus to psoriasis and even as an immune booster for the elderly. This possibility is especially stunning because it means contemplating widespread usage of this class of drugs in basically healthy people and in a group old enough to recall the thalidomide tragedy firsthand...
For scientists to think of these compounds for broad usage, especially in people who aren't very sick, represents a profound comeback ... Considering how tough it is to get new drugs approved, though, the lesson of thalidomide is that it makes sense to look back at old ones and their chemical relatives. Even a former villain, put to a new task, can have a second life.
Read the entire article in Slate.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- In Ferguson, Michael Brown lost his life — and America's police lost the benefit of the doubt
- Is it now OK to have sex with animals?
- Republicans love this new health care plan. Too bad it's basically a tax cut for the rich.
- In defense of Gwyneth Paltrow
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 17 old proverbs we should use more often
- 8 tricks to surviving the holidays without gaining weight or being grouchy
- Don't blame Chuck Hagel: Obama's foreign policy has been a disaster from end to end
- Adam Sandler's 'Thanksgiving Song': Explaining the 22-year-old tune's pop-culture references
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
Subscribe to the Week