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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Thalidomide 'fights blood cancer'
thalidomide bottle
Thalidomide is now being used against several diseases
Patients suffering a rare form of cancer may be the latest to benefit from the notorious drug Thalidomide.

The medication, responsible for hundreds of malformed babies born in the 1950s and 1960s, has been reintroduced in the battle against several diseases.

Research published in the journal Blood suggests it could be useful in treating some patients with myelodysplastic syndromes.

These are conditions in which the production of blood cells is severely disrupted.

Some patients go on to develop acute myeloid leukaemia, and many need regular blood transfusions.

With a drug that in the past has caused so much pain, it is good to see that it is bringing more hope for the future for cancer sufferers

Gwen Caplan, Cancer Research Campaign
The research team, based at Rush-Presbyterian-St Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, treated 83 patients with Thalidomide.

Although 32 patients had to drop out of the study because of unpleasant side-effects, 16 showed improvements in the levels of blood platelets, and were less dependent on tranfusions.

Ten of them stopped needing transfusions altogether.

'Gentler alternative'

Dr Azra Raza, who led the study, said that the drug worked because it helped protect important bone marrow cells, and had a positive impact on the immune system.

He said: "Right now, the standard treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome is blood transfusion, which leads to accumulation of iron in the body and serious organ damage.

"Our hope is to find gentler, more effective treatments. Thalidomide may be part of that."

Thalidomide was originally marketed as a remedy for morning sickness, but was withdrawn from the market after babies began to be born with severe defects.

Often they had deformities in arms or legs.

However, since then doctors have not abandoned the drug entirely, and it has been tested against everything from leprosy to Aids.

Gwen Kaplan, an information nurse with the Cancer Research Campaign, said that the finding was encouraging.

She said: "With a drug that in the past has caused so much pain, it is good to see that it is bringing more hope for the future for cancer sufferers.

"Thalidomide has already shown some benefit in patients with myeloma, prostate and kidney cancers and it is extremely good news that some patients with this disease have responded favourably to it."

See also:

25 Jan 01 | Health
Thalidomide is 'cancer weapon'
25 Jan 01 | Health
'My hope for Thalidomide cure'
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