16 th Aug 7.Know your medicines and treatments?
You guessed it… Mechlorethamine
Mechlorethamine is a member of a class of chemotherapies called alkylating agents. Previously called nitrogen mustard it was a derivative of nitrogen gas developed by chemist Fritz Haber and first used in World War One as a chemical warfare agent. Haber was also responsible for developing a process (the Haber Process) responsible for the development of ammonia-based fertilisers which the food production for half the world’s current population now depends on.
But when World War Two loomed, Allied Force researchers fearing the reuse of chemical gas warfare, tried to create antidotes. Two doctors at Yale University, Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman, delved into the medical records of soldiers affected by gas during the Great War. They noticed that many of the soldiers had low number of immune cells in their blood – cells that, if mutated, can go on to develop into leukaemia and lymphoma. They hypothesised that if mustard gas could destroy normal white blood cells, it might also destroy cancerous ones. Later patient trials in 1942 proved promising, leading to the treatment that we now know as chemotherapy and specifically the development of the medicine; Mechlorethamine.