Around 12,000 children were born with some kind of disability due to damage caused by thalidomide. Countless more miscarriages, which weren't recorded as caused by thalidomide, mean we can't assess correctly the true scale of the disaster. Estimates put the number of children affected at around 20,000. Even this doesn't take account of the families of the children affected.
One effect of thalidomide is targeting blood vessels. It is able to block growth and so tends to target parts of the body undergoing growth. Pregnant women taking the drug could therefore feel the benefit of the drug in combating morning sickness, but damage was being done to the rapidly growing foetus. It is possible that so many of the thalidomide babies experienced phocomelia because morning sickness can appear around the time of foetal limb growth.
Many other forms of damage were caused to the children,
including brain damage.
Fortunately many children's disabilities were purely physical and they could
learn to cope with disabilities and show normal intelligence.
Now all countries require this information, and Drug tests have become infinitely more thorough. A lot of research has been put into optically active molecules. In most cases where only one enantiomer of a molecule is an effective drug, a stereo specific manufacturing method will be created.
It was never thought that thalidomide affected the DNA of patients.
Nobody expected any effect to be observed in the children of the victims, but unfortunately
new research is suggesting effects can be passed through generations.
Of 380 children born to thalidomide victims, 11 have suffered congenital limb defects, a rate 5 times higher than in the general population. Research has suggested it can also alter the DNA of eggs and sperm in rats.