Skip navigation
C. A New Use for An Infamous Drug

Narrator: This is Science Today. Wasting syndrome -- extreme weight loss -- is an increasingly common problem among people with AIDS, and doctors are looking for a way to fight it. One national study is testing thalidomide, a sedative that's infamous for causing birth defects. But thalidomide has been used in other, more beneficial ways, according to Dr. Morris Schambelan of the University of California, San Francisco.

Schambelan: And it's been known for awhile that thalidomide causes weight gain in patients with other kinds of infections, particularly with tuberculosis.

Narrator: Schambelan is running the San Francisco arm of the thalidomide study. He says the problem isn't simply weight loss.

Schambelan: The real problem with wasting, I think the one that gets people into trouble, is the fact that they've lost lean tissue, lean body mass, muscle and organ mass. And it turns out the therapies that are currently available that have been approved can cause weight gain, but they cause a gain primarily of fat.

Narrator: It's not known whether thalidomide adds lean tissue or fat, and that's one of the things the study aims to discover. For Science Today, I'm Steve Tokar.