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Thalidomide (alpha-(N-phthalimido)glutarimide) is a synthetic glutamic acid derivative which was manufactured by the German pharmaceutical company Chemie Grunenthal in the 1950s[1].  The drug has sedative and antiemetic properties, making it a popular for combatting morning sickness in pregnant women. However, thalidomide was withdrawn from the market in early 1961, after clinicians William McBride[2] and Widukind Lenz[3] independently reported a link between the drug and birth defects. Thalidomide is a potent teratogen, causing dysmelia in humans[4]

The deformities in the children were caused by the mixture of the L-form and D-form of the thalidomide molecule. The L-form was safe and worked effectively as a drug, but the D-form was harmful and caused the deformities. Due to modern technology, scientists have been able to isolate and distribute the safe form of thalidomide, and it is now prescribed as a form of cancer treatment. It is used to treat multiple myeloma due to its ability to prevent the formation of blood vessels in tumour tissue. The mechanism of how it works is unclear and has been shown to be most effective when used at a low dose of steroids or chemotherapy. The use of thalidomide has been proved increase the response rate, improve the survival chances of people suffering with multiple myeloma[5].


  1. Bartlett, J.B., Dredge, K. and Dalgleish, A.G. (2004) ‘Timeline: The evolution of thalidomide and its IMiD derivatives as anticancer agents’, Nature Reviews Cancer, 4(4), pp. 314–322. doi: 10.1038/nrc1323.
  2. McBride, W.G. (1961) ‘THALIDOMIDE AND CONGENITAL ABNORMALITIES’, The Lancet, 278(7216), p. 1358. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(61)90927-8.
  3. Lenz, W., Pfeiffer, R.A., Kosenow, W. and Hayman, D.J. (1962) ‘THALIDOMIDE AND CONGENITAL ABNORMALITIES’, The Lancet, 279(7219), pp. 45–46. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(62)92665-x.
  4. DʼAmato RJ, Loughnan, M.S., Flynn, E. and Folkman, J. (1996) ‘Thalidomide is an inhibitor of Angiogenesis’, Retina, 16(3), p. 268. doi: 10.1097/00006982-199616030-00022.
  5. Palumbo A, Facon T, Sonneveld P, Blade J, Offidani M, Gay F et al. Thalidomide for treatment of multiple myeloma: 10 years later. Blood. 2008;111(8):3968-3977.
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