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History - United Kingdom

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The Dépakine affair: Communicating reproductive risk in post-thalidomide France

Today, Dépakine is an embattled drug. Sanofi, the manufacturer, is facing a class action in France, and a Paris court recently held the company liable for failing in its duty of care. This project is the first to historically investigate Dépakine (sodium valproate), an anti-convulsant drug that, if taken in pregnancy, also causes neurodevelopmental impairments. It focuses on the crucial role played in Lyon in the 1970s by REMERA (Registre des Malformations en Rhône-Alpes) in evidencing fetal harm. Examining Dépakine situates France, and more specifically Lyon, in the historical understanding of persistent tensions between reproductive rights and disability rights in contemporary Europe. By collaborating with patients (women with epilepsy who took Dépakine while pregnant), the project also contributes to the development of a more inclusive mode of historical research within science studies. Beyond compensation and justice for the families, at stake are fundamental issues regarding the production and communication of biomedical knowledge about reproductive risk in the post-thalidomide world.

Activities / Resume


Jesse Olszynko-Gryn is a historian of science, technology and medicine at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. As co-lead on the international collaborative research project, Risky Hormones, he works with patient groups and other partners to historically investigate the contested use and regulation of pharmaceuticals in pregnancy and the risk of birth defects in the post-thalidomide world. His first book, A Woman’s Right to Know: Pregnancy Testing in Twentieth-Century Britain, is under contract with the MIT Press. At Strathclyde, he co-convenes the Disability Research Group.