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Jennifer Vanderbes
Unaffiliated independent scholar
THE GATEKEEPER: Dr. Frances Kelsey and the Unlikely Heroes Who Foiled the Greatest Pharmaceutical Scandal of the 20th Century

 Research and writing leading to a nonfiction book on the 1960s scandal surrounding the German-made sedative thalidomide, which has been linked to birth defects in some 10,000 babies worldwide.

I am writing a book (THE GATEKEEPER, under contract with Random House) about the thalidomide scandal of the 1960s, focusing on three American doctors, all women, who fought to keep the drug off the American market. The book is based on FDA documents, court records, various personal archives, and the first-ever interviews with American thalidomide survivors. Thalidomide was a German-made sedative that afflicted over 10,000 babies worldwide with a birth defect known as phocomelia--"seal limbs"--marking the largest drug catastrophe of the 20th century. My book will tell a high-stakes story with a ticking clock, filled with a variety of compelling personalities. A novelist by training, I intend to draw general readers into a narratively-rich world of doctor-heroes, interwoven with the history of pharmaceuticals, advertising, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Project fields:
American Government; History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Medicine; History, Other

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$60,000 (approved)
$60,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2019 – 8/31/2020