Researchers Explore Thalidomide's Therapeutic Potential

Date: February 3, 1997

Despite the thalidomide crisis in the 1960s, scientists have long appreciated the drug's important therapeutic potential. In 1965, researchers first reported that thalidomide's anti-inflammatory effect could ease erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL), a painful condition in leprosy patients. More than 2 million people suffer from leprosy worldwide. Outside the United States, thalidomide is commonly sold to treat ENL.

Until recently, however, researchers were uncertain how thalidomide works to tone down inflammatory reactions. Intrigued, Gilla Kaplan, an associate professor of cellular physiology and immunology at Rockefeller University, began exploring thalidomide's effect on tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), a key cytokine that surges during inflammation. In 1991, Kaplan's lab reported that thalidomide selectively inhibits TNF-alpha production, thus stifling harmful immune reaction (E.P. Sampaio et al., Journal of Experimental Medicine, 173:699-703, 1991).

"We then realized we had a drug that could reduce inflammatory...

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