Tragedies of Science: The Story of Thalidomide and How the FDA Gained More Power than Any Other Government Agency
By Olivia Woodford-Berry, '19
Though unfamiliar to some, many still remember thalidomide as one of the worst scientific mishaps of the twentieth century. This drug, originally produced in Germany, was brought to market with problematic lack of testing, and was later proven to cause an array of birth defects from phocomelia, or shortened or abnormal appendages resulting from problems with limb development in the womb, to autism like symptoms. (1) According to the Thalidomide Society, as many as 120,000 babies have miscarried, still born, or born with birth defects as a result of thalidomide. (1) This failure to regulate drugs has impacted thousands of victims, and the influence of this catastrophe continues to impact drug development in unseen ways. Specifically, the historical memories of thalidomide have given wake to the modern, virtually insurmountable power of the Food and Drug Administration.
by Sophia Park '13.5
Pain is perhaps our most important sense for survival – it warns us with a piercing signal that our body has sustained damage. However, it is unpleasant by nature.
The search to relieve pain dates back to at least 3400 BC, when ancient Sumerians used opium (1). In modern times, with advances in science and technology, we have a much more diverse and refined list of chemical agents for various medical purposes.
The advent of inhalant anesthesia contributed immensely to the development of modern general anesthesia. Currently, the most commonly used inhalational anesthetic agents are isoflurane, desflurane, sevoflurane, and nitrous oxide. When the idea of inhalational anesthesia first began to emerge, scientists focused on nitrous oxide and ether gas, largely due to their familiarity to people. Both gases were well known for their hypnotic effect. Nitrous oxide is also known as “laughing gas,” and was used recreationally to induce euphoria often accompanied by giggling, primarily at parties and in traveling shows (2, 3).
by Haily Tran '16
"This spring I saved a friend from a terrible illness, maybe even death. No, I didn’t donate a kidney or a piece of my lung. I did it with my stool." [image via]
We’re all familiar with the fibrous substance our bodies excrete on a regular basis. You probably don’t think twice about flushing it down the toilet. But, here’s a thought: human fecal matter has been used in more than 3,000 medical procedures around the world to cure various gastrointestinal illnesses. (1)
Our digestive system is home to over 20,000 different species of good bacteria, most of which accompany our digested food waste out of the body (2). A sample of healthy human feces is the densest bacterial ecosystem in nature—trillions of strains versus the mere 30 found in the best probiotics (3). Fecal microbiota is a burgeoning field of research as more scientists look to Mother Nature for ingenious medical solutions rather than synthesizing them in a lab.
by Noah Schlottman '16
It is something that has, most likely, perplexed humanity for thousands of years (1). It is something that has probably confused recreational users, the shamans who were its prescribers, and maybe even Shakespeare (2). Certainly there are Brown students who have pondered time and again, perhaps at various times throughout this university’s 250 years: Why does marijuana give you the munchies?
Though we haven’t figured out the full answer yet, a group of researchers at the University of Bordeaux conducted a study that gives us some insight into why, indeed, marijuana makes people hungry (3).
Tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly known as THC) is the “active ingredient” in cannabis. It mimics the activity of chemicals called cannabinoids that are naturally produced by our brains. These chemicals fit into receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in controlling mood, memory, pain, and—most importantly in this case—appetite. An ingenious experimental design allowed them to focus on certain cannabinoid receptors in mice’s olfactory bulbs, a part of the brain involved in odor perception.
by Sara Kazemi
This article was written by a student at the Wheeler School. Brown's chapter of The Triple Helix collaborates with the Wheeler School to engage high school students in science journalism.
You’re about to take your last final of the semester, but you simply cannot focus. The ability to ace this exam is presented to you in the form of a simple pill that plenty of your friends already take. How bad could it be?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a disorder characterized by the inability to focus, hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, or a combination of all three (1). ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders and usually continues to affect those people diagnosed through adolescence and adulthood (1). Although scientists are not completely sure what causes ADHD, studies suggest that genes might play a large role (1). Like other disorders and illnesses, it is most probable that ADHD results from a combination of factors (1). Research has shown that ADHD often runs in families and children with ADHD who carry a particular version of a certain gene have thinner brain tissue in the areas of the brain associated with attention (1). Environmental factors are also linked to ADHD; studies suggest that there is a potential link between cigarette smoking and drinking during pregnancy and offspring with ADHD as well as high exposure to lead during early childhood (1). Also, children who have suffered from brain injuries tend to show some behaviors similar to those diagnosed with ADHD (1). There are other causes of ADHD that are harder to support; there are ideas that refined sugar causes ADHD or makes symptoms worse while British research indicates a possible link between consumption of certain food additives like artificial colors or preservatives and hyperactivity (1). There are a multitude of medications that are said to treat or improve the severity of ADHD, but unfortunately there is no cure to this disorder.