Poison V.S Cancer
Mustard gas, a chemical weapon utilized during world war one
went on to be developed as the first chemotherapeutic agent in the fight against cancer.
Mustard Gas , a poison utilized by the Germans during World War I, earned it’s name from its pungent odour and colour.
While not a particularly efficient killing agent it was used to harass and immobilise its targets by causing; severe skin irritation in the form of blisters and bleeding, vomiting and stripping off the mucus membrane of the bronchial tube, all of which are clearly associated with severe pain.
Though mustard gas crippled and killed many soldiers its contribution to medical science should not be ignored.
Twenty years post World War I and the threat of a new war looms over the world. Scientists of the Yale community are desperately trying to find a cure for mustard gas but what they discovered instead would revolutionize our war against cancer.
Though it wasn’t known at the time, observation at micro level will see that mustard gas’ destructive nature is due to its ability to bind to dividing cells DNA. As a result this triggers the cells self-destruct mechanisms or apoptosis and the cell dies.
Looking through the WWI medical records of gas inflicted soldiers scientists quickly discovered a decreased white blood cell count among the wounded.
Leukocytes regularly proliferate, making them prone to the effects of mustard gas.
The question became obvious, if mustard gas worked to destroy healthy Leukocytes was it also able to terminate malignant ones?
A serum was devised from the deadly mustard gas and after initial experiments on animals the Yale scientists were ready for a human trial.
In 1942 a steel worker volunteered himself. However during this time period a trial this revolutionary was kept top secret, therefore the man’s identity simply became JD.
Unfortunately at this stage in his life JD’s body was riddled with leukaemia to the point where his physician had describes his prognoses as “Utterly hopples”.
Tumour growth within the cervical lymph nodes had advanced until JD struggled to sleep, eat and breath. Without drastic measures he was already dead.
The developed Serum X was given to JD and a rapid improvement in quality of life could be seen over the period of a few days.
As it were JD’s condition had caused irreversible damage and despite drastic improvements JD passed on.
This was the first chemotherapeutic agent to be developed and trialled for the war against cancer.
Seventy-one years have passed since JD’s sacrifice for medicine, in that time chemotherapy has advanced endlessly yet we should never forget its origins or the people who have dedicated their lives for a better future.