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The Great Secret: The Classified World War II Disaster that Launched the War on Cancer

When the Nazis bombed Bari, a Mediterranean port city main to the Allied war effort, on December 2, 1943, numerous sailors sustained dreadful injuries. Within days of the attack, composes Jennet Conant in The Great Secret, the injured began exhibiting unexpected symptoms, consisting of blisters “as huge as balloons and heavy with fluid,” in the words of British nurse Gwladys Rees, and extreme eye discomfort. “We started to understand that the majority of our clients had actually been infected by something beyond all creativity,” Rees later on remembered.

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American medical officer Stewart Francis Alexander, who had actually been contacted to examine the strange conditions, quickly understood that the sailors had actually been exposed to mustard gas. Allied leaders fasted to put the blame on the Germans, however Alexander discovered concrete proof sourcing the contamination to an Allied delivery of mustard gas struck throughout the battle. Though the military covered its function in the catastrophe for years, the attack had at least one favorable result: While dealing with clients, Alexander found out that mustard gas quickly ruined victims’ blood cells and lymph nodes– a phenomenon with comprehensive implications for cancer treatment. The very first chemotherapy based upon nitrogen mustard was authorized in 1949, and a number of drugs based upon Alexander’s research study stay in usage today.

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Readan excerpt from The Excellent Secret that ran in the September 2020 problem of Smithsonian publication

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