THE RETURN OF THALIDOMIDE
|Thalidomide has helped save Garry's life|
Garry Edlin owes his life to a drug with a chilling past. When given only a few weeks to live, and when all other treatments had failed, Garry was prescribed Thalidomide.
Garry suffers from Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a rare and incurable cancer. Taking Thalidomide, Garry says, was almost 'miraculous'.
At first his GP thought it was blocked saliva glands, but five weeks later, the lumps had developed into the size of a grapefruit. Garry was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma.
Within days the huge cancerous growths in his neck had shrunk to next to nothing. Now two years on, Garry is still combating his cancer with this highly contentious drug.
Thalidomide's notorious past
Thalidomide was first introduced in the 1950s as a sedative. Because it was deemed to be so safe, it was prescribed to pregnant women to combat the nausea and insomnia associated with morning sickness.
Women who took the drug in early pregnancy gave birth to children with severe birth defects such as missing or shortened limbs.
Approximately 40% of those children died within a year of their birth. Survivors face life with major physical challenges.
Shortly after the link between Thalidomide and birth defects was proven it was banned from use world-wide.
|Thalidomide put the spotlight on how drugs were tested for safety|
Thalidomide was responsible for changing the way drugs are tested and released for general medical use.
The drug was widely distributed and prescribed in the 1950s and early 1960s.
When it was later proven to be so dangerous to pregnant women, people asked why it was made available in the first place.
Thalidomide had passed safety tests performed on animals. In some tests, dosages of over 600 times the normal human dosage had no effect at all on rodents.
On further investigation it was found that more extensive tests into the drug had not been carried out.
The return of Thalidomide
Thalidomide had been sold throughout the world before the effects the drug could have on unborn babies was known.
After its withdrawal from the market supplies could still be found in some developing countries.
In 1964, Dr. Jacob Sheskin, a doctor in Jerusalem used Thalidomide to provide some relief to a patient with leprosy.
The doctor thought that the drug would act as a sedative and help the patient to sleep.
|Side effects of thalidomide|
- skin rash
- severe headaches
- stomach aches
- peripheral neuropathy (numbness and pain in your arms, hands, legs and feet)
- dizziness and nausea
- giddiness or nervousness at higher doses
- shivering and buzzing in the ears
- depression or mood-swings
- a general sense of illness
- severe birth defects if taken even once during pregnancy
Immediately, some side-effects of using the sedative became apparent.
This time the effects were extremely positive. Within three days the leprosy had gone and skin lesions healed.
When the patient stopped taking the Thalidomide the leprosy returned.
It seemed that Thalidomide would act as a suppresser, throwing the disease into retreat, although it could not actually eradicate the illness entirely from the patient.
Since then, Thalidomide has been successfully used to treat people with AIDS and bone cancer
Garry Edling was 39, when in 1996 he was diagnosed as having Mantle Cell Lymphoma.
He underwent five bouts of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant in an attempt to beat the disease.
By 2002 he could hardly walk, sleep or eat - the treatments had failed. Doctors told him that in a few weeks the cancer would kill him.
But then Garry's new consultant, Dr. Simon Rule, suggested a new treatment - Thalidomide.
Dr. Rule's motivations were similar to Dr. Sheskin's (the doctor who had used Thalidomide to treat leprosy). Dr Rule says,
"I was hoping that I would improve his symptoms - make him feel better - because we had really run out of every chemotherapy there was.
And the fantastic side effect was that his disease disappeared - I didn't expect that at all."
|"His response is nothing short of remarkable."|
|Dr. Rule on the effect of Thalidomide on Garry's cancer|
Garry is not immune to the other side effects of the drug though.
But then the tumours stopped growing and started shrinking. Garry says,
"Within 10 days these huge lumps had gone - it's like a miracle cure"
Garry is not immune to other side effects of the drug though.
His hands and feet have become numb and are prone to locking up, so he finds it difficult to move them.
He suffers from a lot of muscular pain. However although this is less than ideal, it keeps his killer disease at bay.
|Garry is now part of a clinical trial looking at how Thalidomide works|
Because Thalidomide is still an unlicensed drug in this country and must be prescribed with the utmost caution, the drug can only be obtained under strict control.
Garry is one of a handful of patients who receive the drug as part of an informal trial being conducted by Dr. Rule and a team from Derriford Hospital.
The team is hoping to undertake a national trial shortly to test the potential of using Thalidomide to treat Mantle Cell Lymphoma.