The Mirror Image Horror

In 1961 an Australian doctor named William McBride noticed a sudden increase in the number of deformed babies being born at his hospital.McBride wrote to the Lancet pointing out a curious "Coincidence":all the babies had been born to mothers who had taken a new morning sickness treatment called thalidomide.
 By the end of the following year,appalling deformities had turned up in thousands of children born to thalidomide-taking mothers.
About 500 were born in Britain alone.The cause was the fact that thalidomide comes in more than one isomer.The right-handed version was a wonder drug- an excellent and safe treatment for morning sickness and depression. But the left-handed version interfered with processes that form a baby.
 Chemie Grunenthal,the German inventor of thalidomide,was unwittingly producing a mix of isomers.Pasteur's insistence on the biological importance of isomers could hardly have had more dramatic confirmation. Astonishingly,it is only recently that his scientific successors have taken up the idea:the US Food and Drug Administration now demands that all drugs have their isomers separately tested for safety. Identifying and separating these isomers -"Chiral chemistry" - is one of the hottest new fields of commercial chemistry.

How the Sunday Times slashed through years of cover-ups to bring out the full Thalidomide story.


Sep95 p57