It is currently used as a treatment for the blood cancer known as multiple myeloma.
John Shaughnessy, Ph.D., director of the Lambert Laboratory of Myeloma Genetics in the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy (MIRT) at UAMS, and his colleagues found that the drug interfered with limb development by setting off a chain of reactions among a series of proteins tied to bone development.
Thalidomide-induced damage was reduced when these reactions were blocked, according to the researchers. The identification of the molecular reactions elicited by the drug also could lead to new cancer treatments. The article, “Thalidomide induces limb deformities by perturbing the Bmp/Dkk1/Wnt signaling pathway,” will be published in the May 2007 issue of The FASEB Journal, the journal of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology.
“It’s an important discovery as it potentially solves the mystery behind the thalidomide birth defect link,” said Shaughnessy, who also is a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine.
“Since thalidomide and its derivatives are also used to treat cancer, the discovery also gives us another lead in our search for more effective cancer treatments.”
Shaughnessy said the molecular pathway used by the drug to produce the birth defects could also be the mechanism that makes it effective against multiple myeloma.
“If true, the identification of the mechanism for thalidomide-induced birth defects may turn a tragic story into one of hope,” Shaughnessy said.
Multiple myeloma is the second largest of the blood cancers, affecting an estimated 750,000 people worldwide.