Teratology Society Members Remember Thalidomide Crisis ‘Hero’ Frances Oldham Kelsey, MD, PhD

Teratology Society Members Remember

Thalidomide Crisis ‘Hero’ Frances Oldham Kelsey, MD, PhD

kelsey.jpgIn the 1960s, she was honored by President John F. Kennedy with the nation’s highest civilian award for her work to block thalidomide’s use during pregnancy in the United States. Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey was a long-standing Teratology Society member who first joined in 1964. Today, Dr. Kelsey’s ‘heroic’ legacy lives on as Teratology Society members reflect on her lasting impact as a courageous physician and pharmacologist. Dr. Kelsey passed away Friday, Aug. 7 at the age of 101.

Dr. Kelsey lived an inspiring and remarkable life. Her own words detail her life, career, and the public battle with drug makers that made her famous and, subsequently, prevented a birth defects crisis in the U.S., in a piece called “Autobiographical Reflections.”

Despite constant criticism and pressure from the drug’s manufacturer, the lack of evidence surrounding Kevadon, otherwise known as thalidomide, kept Frances Oldham Kelsey, MD, PhD, medical officer at the FDA in 1960, from approving it for use in the United States. As a result, the move averted a potential birth defects disaster in the United States during a time when thousands of major birth defects cases were being reported in countries where the drug had been approved. 

“I was fortunate enough to spend time with her in the late ‘90s, and she told me many stories about what happened and gave me several articles that were written about what happened with the thalidomide battle,” reflected Carole Kimmel, PhD, a Teratology Society member since 1971.  “We all owe her a great debt of gratitude for her hard work and ability to stick to her convictions, and she is a wonderful role model for us to follow.”

“Dr. Kelsey’s story is intimately connected to the history of teratology and the Teratology Society,” said Tacey E. White, PhD, Teratology Society president. “It is amazing to think of the long and fruitful life that Dr. Kelsey enjoyed and the clear benefits that she brought to the American people by first averting a major thalidomide disaster, and then helping to put into place the many safeguards we enjoy today,” she added. 

Read more about Dr. Kelsey’s extraordinary life in this New York Times article.

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