Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Things could be worse... (right?)

Remember thalidomide? The drug that caused severe birth defects when taken by pregnant women, available in the mid 20th century? The fact that this drug is no longer prescribed is thanks to Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey. Dr. Kelsey, now 96 years old, "helped write the rules that now govern nearly every clinical trial in the industrialized world, and was the first official to oversee them," according to an article published by the New York Times. Read more about Dr. Kelsey and the 50th anniversary of Kelsey's involvement in strengthening the FDA, here.

(An observation: At nearly the same time that Kelsey influenced FDA policy, Henrietta Lacks' cancerous cervical cells gave birth to HeLa cells, said to have now been reproducing in labs across the world to the extent that when laid side to side, they would wrap around the globe three times over. Lacks' cells have been undeniably instrumental to medical progress, yet Henrietta Lacks, an African American, was given little credit for her "immortal cells." Kelsey, on the other hand, also a woman whose existence was instrumental to medical progress, received immediate recognition with regard to her role in developing clinical trial guidelines for the FDA. Granted, Lacks didn't intentionally make her cells useful to medicine - that happened without her control - yet there seems to be some sort of uncanny resemblance between the roles of these two women in the history of medical progress. Kelsey, however, unlike Lacks, has always received the recognition she has deserved. Kelsey's getting a proverbial foot in the medical door, the Times article reports, was a result of her first name looking like a man's name. Lacks didn't have such an advantage.)

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