Here's a drug that brings up all kinds of negative images: Thalidomide. You may remember it was used a long time ago to treat morning sickness, until doctors figured out it caused major birth defects. That's why it seems incredible now that Thalidomide is showing great promise as a cancer fighter.
"What we've seen with patients with advanced disease is that we've been able to stabilize their cancer growth," says Dr. Ramin Mirhashemi, oncologist.
The drug appears to prevent the formation of new blood vessels -- which is why it stopped new blood growth and triggered birth defects. The same reason now that it appears to stop the tumors from growing.
Dr. Everardo Cobos at Texas Tech told me that Thalidomide is being tested all across the country now -- including the cancer centers here in Lubbock, and he said that he could think of three cases here where bone marrow transplants failed but Thalidomide is helping treat multiple myeloma, a type of bone cancer.
Thalidomide is being tested at various cancer centers in the treatment of blood, brain, prostate, uterine, and ovarian cancers. Dr. Everardo Cobos is an oncologist at Texas Tech's Southwest Cancer Center. He tells me that Thalidomide was never actually taken off the market. However, after all the bad publicity over the birth defects, it was not used for 30 years. Then, researchers found it helped in treating leprosy because it stopped the growth of blood vessels in the sores.
Later, researchers discovered it cured the ulcers that develop in HIV patients. Another benefit, he says, is that Thalidomide seems to offer some help with the immune system. Dr. Cobos adds that no one knows exactly how it works, so Thalidomide is still experimental, but widely used, especially in the treatment of multiple myeloma where the benefits have been dramatic.