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In 1981, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was first officially recognized in the United States, and during the first few years after identification of the disease, little could be done to help those who suffered from it. Three years later, the Burroughs-Wellcome Company began to explore the possibility that AZT, a drug that was first developed in the 1960s, might be an effective treatment for the deadly virus that was quickly spreading around the globe.

View a second, third, and fourth image of AZT

When AZT, also known as zidovudine and azidothymidine, was first manufactured, it was intended for use as an anti-cancer drug, but never received approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for that function. In the mid-1980s, however, it became one of the first pharmaceuticals approved to treat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. In fact, the typical 8 to 10 years of trials and studies that are usually associated with FDA approval of a new drug were significantly reduced for AZT. Due to the extreme need for some form of relief from the disease and heavy lobbying efforts, AZT received official approval in less than two years.

Although AZT does not prevent or cure AIDS, it does function in HIV treatment by inhibiting the virusís ability to reproduce through interference in the transcription of RNA to DNA. The drugís short-term benefits are generally believed to include a decrease in the number of other infections, an improvement in bodily T4 lymphocyte numbers, and an increase in body weight. Research is somewhat conflicted, however, and some medical experts believe that the adverse effects of long-term use of AZT should limit its use. Headache, weakness, nausea, bone marrow problems, and a decrease in some white blood cell counts are just a few of the adverse side effects that have been associated with the drug.



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