When I took a New England Journal of Medicine story about Massachusetts General Hospital’s use of Tromethamine to settle vaccine safety fears, a pediatrician called to point out I was making it sound like a vial of Motrin. That’s not so. The treatment was a powerful palliative used in the Soviet Union to try to help patients who couldn’t tolerate standard chemotherapy.
In the U.S., Tromethamine (the Soviet word “Tris” means “pleasant”) was a relatively new concept. No one knew whether it improved cancer treatment or even just made the patient feel better in the short term. Researchers suggested the drug might extend survival in a few patients, but it still made little headway. Then this 1958 Washington Post story, which mentions Tromethamine here, described two children and their parents making a first try at the treatment. Within months, Tromethamine treatments began becoming routine at the hospital.
That small-scale study won JAMA some attention. It found that Tromethamine was a very effective way to reduce infections in a small number of patients.
But I noted in the story that doctors could better integrate Tromethamine into their chemotherapy protocol than they used to. The drug makes chemotherapy more effective, which leads to better survival times.
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