The era of cancer chemotherapy was first developed at the beginning of the 20th century, although it was not originally intended as a cancer treatment.

During World War II, naval personnel who were exposed to mustard gas during military action were found to have toxic changes in the bone marrow cells that develop into blood cells. During that same period, the US Army was studying a number of chemicals related to mustard gas to develop more effective agents for war and also develop protective measures. In the course of that work, a compound called nitrogen mustard was studied and found to work against a cancer of the lymph nodes called lymphoma. This agent served as the model for a long series of similar but more effective agents (called alkylating agents) that killed rapidly growing cancer cells by damaging their DNA.

In the 1940s, two prominent Yale pharmacologists, Alfred Gilman and Louis Goodman examined the therapeutic effects of mustard agents in treating lymphoma. First, they established lymphomas in mice and showed that the tumors could be treated with mustard agents. Then, together with a thoracic surgeon called Gustav Linskog, they injected a less volatile form of mustard gas called mustine (nitrogen mustard) into a patient who had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The scientists found that the patients tumor masses were significantly reduced for a few weeks after treatment and although the patient had to return to receive more chemotherapy, this marked the beginning of the use of cytotoxic agents for the treatment of cancer. The initial study was done in 1943 and the results were published in 1946.

Carolyn’s comment:

And here we are almost 80 years later and it still doesn’t work. Just goes to show it’s not uncommon for many of today’s cures to walk a very fine line between medicinal brilliance and poison.

Point of Interest Article for OIRF Supporters
From THE BRIDGE Newsletter of OIRF
Publshied January 2018
Compiled from various sources by Carolyn Winsor
© Copyright 2019, Occidental Institute, BC Canada

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