History of Chemotherapy

An overview on the history of chemotherapy

The history of chemotherapy goes back to the 1940s. The year 1940 saw the use of folic acid antagonist and nitrogen mustards drugs. Since then there has been a great development in the history of cancer drugs. Though there has been immense development in the chemotherapy treatment, but some of the principles and limitations of the early researchers of chemotherapy are still being used in this treatment.

The first era of the history of chemotherapy ranges from 1940-1950. The modern age of the chemotherapy treatment started with the discovery of nitrogen mustard. Nitrogen mustard was a chemical agent used in warfare and has been proved to be an effective agent for treating cancer. The Department of Defense of United States had appointed two pharmacologists, Alfred Gilman and Louis S. Goodman to find out if the chemical agents used in war could be used for therapeutic application. They observed that the chemical agents could be used for treating lymphoma, a tumor in the lymphoid cells. They first conducted their experiment on mice. Later on they worked in association with Gustav Linskog, a thoracic surgeon; they injected mustine, a chemical agent, into a person suffering from non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They observed a dramatic reduction in the mass of the patient’s tumor. This effect however lasted only for some weeks. However, this is considered to be the first step in using pharmacological agents for treating cancer.

The use of antifolates is considered to be another turning point in the history of chemotherapy. This is considered as the second approach of treating cancer with the help of available chemotherapy drugs. Sidney Faber studied what effects was created by folic acid which is a type of vitamin important for the metabolism of DNA on patients suffering from leukemia. Faber was a pathologist of Harvard Medical School. Faber did his testing on children and found out that folic acid helped in the stimulation of the lymphoblastic leukemia cells that are acute. Faber, in association with Harriett Kilte and the chemists of Lederle laboratories, created the folate analogues. The first antifolate created by him was aminoprotein and the next one was amethopterin. These antifolates when used on children showed that they could suppress the proliferation of the cancer cells.

Another turning point in the history of chemotherapy was the discovery of methotrexate treatment. This discovery was done by Min Chui Li and Roy Hertz of the National Cancer Institute. This treatment was used to cure choriocarcinoma which is a malignancy of the germ cell and occurs in the placenta’s trophoblastic cell. This was considered to be the first tumor that had been cured by chemotherapy.

Another important event in the history of chemotherapy was the development of anti-metabolites for the treatment of cancer. This was done by Joseph Burchenal. He in association with two chemists Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings tested different purine analogues and finally discovered 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP). This has been considered to be highly effective in leukemia chemotherapy. Another turning point was the creation of the National Cancer Chemotherapy Service Center in the year 1955. This was considered to be the first federal program for discovering different anti cancer drugs.