Thalidomide first appeared in Germany on 1st October 1957. It was marketed as a sedative with apparently remarkably few side effects. The Drug Company who developed it believed it was so safe it was suitable for prescribing to pregnant women to help combat morning sickness.
It was quickly being prescribed to thousands of
women and spread to most corners of the globe. Nobody had any idea of what
was to follow. Drug testing procedures were far more relaxed at this time,
and although tests had taken place on thalidomide, they didn't reveal any of
its tetragenic (roughly meaning causing malformations) properties. In most
countries, drug companies were not required to submit testing results to the
appropriate government agencies.
The tests on thalidomide were conducted on rodents which metabolise the drug in a different way to humans. Later tests on rabbits and monkeys produced the same horrific side effects as in humans.
Towards the end of the fifties, children began to be born with shocking disabilities. It was not immediately obvious what the cause of this was. Probably the most renowned is Pharcomelia, the name given to the flipper-like limbs which appeared on the children of women who took thalidomide. Babies effected by this tragedy were given the name 'Thalidomide Babies'.
Pictured right are some of babies born with the flipper-like limbs. Remarkably, many of the children involved have gone on to lead successful and fulfilling lives.
To read about more effects of thalidomide click here.