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Cancer Drug Found; Scientist Annoyed 349

Posted by kdawson
from the serendipity dept.
sporkme writes "A scientist was frustrated when the compound she was working with (called PPAR-gamma) destroyed her sample of cancer cells. Further research revealed that the substance was surprisingly well suited as a cancer treatment. Lab test results on mice resulted in the destruction of colon tumors without making the mice sick." Quoting: "'I made a calculation error and used a lot more than I should have. And my cells died,' Schaefer said. A colleague overheard her complaining. 'The co-author on my paper said, "Did I hear you say you killed some cancer?" I said "Oh," and took a closer look.' ... [They found that the compound killed] 'pretty much every epithelial tumor cell lines we have seen.'" Update: 02/15 17:27 GMT by KD : As reader CorporalKlinger pointed out, PPAR-gamma is a cellular receptor, not a compound; and this news is not particularly new.
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Cancer Drug Found; Scientist Annoyed

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  • From TFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by guruevi (827432) <<evi> <at> <smokingcube.be>> on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:51PM (#18025356) Homepage
    As the compound is already patented, her team will probably have to design something slightly different to be able to patent it as a new drug.

    FTW. I found a cure for cancer, sorry patented. And for AIDS too, sorry patented. I found a cure for all sickness and death, sorry patented.
  • by Buddy_DoQ (922706) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:53PM (#18025396) Homepage
    This happens to me quite often, I will dig into a project trying to solve some major issue or another (Wi-Fi's down again!) and hours later I've solved it. The problem is I've already forgotten the original issue and found three others that are really quite trivial. Sometimes I look up and notice, sometimes I just keep working away, creating new issues and solutions with complete disregard for the original major issue. It's like my focus becomes so narrow, that I can't see the bigger picture without someone else stepping in.

    This is where a good project manager should step in. "You do realize you've been painting the same tiny bit of trim for the past three hours, right?"
  • We need a new meme (Score:5, Interesting)

    by paiute (550198) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:57PM (#18025474)
    For the love of RB Woodward's wine-guzzling ghost, I am sick of stories about compound X and how it is the next big thing and how it kills cancer cells stone dead in a Petri dish.

    Every other compound you can order from Aldrich will kill cancer cells in vitro. So will a ball peen hammer. Drano, playground sand, double-acting baking powder. Pledge will kill them and leave a lemony-fresh scent.

    When this compound gets to stage III clinical trials and does not leave a trail of bodies and does show some efficacy, then you can post the story.

    Until then, Netcraft confirms it. These cancer cells are dying.
    In the Soviet Union, cancer cells kill new drugs.
    etc
  • Re:Moo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot.kadin@xoxFREEBSDy.net minus bsd> on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:07PM (#18025644) Homepage Journal
    Not true; what about theoreticians? They'd probably be pretty offended to be left out of "scientists," although they don't do a whole lot of "research" at least in the traditional sense. (Some do, though, but with theoretical stuff you have to have a fairly loose definition of 'research,' since a whole lot of it resembles 'preparing for publication.')

    "Research scientist" is probably a better term for the woman in TFA; "scientist" alone is so vague as to be almost unusable. It's just 'someone doing science,' and could be pretty much anyone from a grad student to a Nobel laureate; it doesn't say anything about what type or kind of science they're engaged in, or what their goals are.
  • by g2devi (898503) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:22PM (#18025864)
    "Dr. Plunkett was under contract with the DuPont Company and was doing research on methods of creating non-toxic refrigerants that would have very specialized uses; however, upon beginning his original experiment he realized that he had a problem . When he went to open the tank of gaseous tetrafluoroethylene, no gas came out of the cylinder; instead the only thing that came from this was a great curiosity . What perplexed Plunkett was that the weight of the tank indicated that there should be a given amount of the fluorocarbon present in the tank, and that it simply hadn't leaked out. This puzzled Plunkett and caused him to investigate what was actually still in the "empty" tank; however, it was not until he sawed the tank open that he realized what had taken place. Inside the tank he found a white, waxy powder and concluded that these individual gas molecules had bonded together to form this incredible solid, teflon, that had some very promising chemical properties."

    Source: http://users.wfu.edu/starbt5/Serendipity%20Project /website/Serendipity.htm [wfu.edu]
  • by Harmonious Botch (921977) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:25PM (#18025914) Homepage Journal
    Actually, Flemming's contribution was not that he saw something. Several other scientists - even back in the 1800s - had observed that one form of microbe killed off another. Flemming was apparently the first one to realize what this meant, and to follow through on it. He is more a parallel of the researcher's colleague than of the researcher in TFA.
  • by vorpal22 (114901) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:28PM (#18025966) Homepage Journal
    Even more strange, but along the same lines, is the new and coming drug, Bremelanotide [wikipedia.org]. It was created with the intention of being an artificial tanning agent, at which it succeeded, but a large number of the test subjects, both male and female, reported highly increased sexual arousal during the tests.

    It's fairly far along in clinical trials and seems very promising, making it the first recognized effective pharmaceutical aphrodisiac.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:55PM (#18026384) Homepage Journal
    Well, sure, just like dishwashing detergent kills HIV. It just also happens to kill the host if you take it intravenously. I just don't bother to involve the obvious and mundane in my comments if I can avoid it, because, well, it's obvious and mundane. This is news for nerds, right? I'm a nerd and I produce comments meant for other nerds of similar proclivity.
  • She was lucky (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WrongDecision (803195) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:09PM (#18026586)
    Agreed. She was lucky. "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity" -somebody intelligent said that, damned if I know who.
  • Re:Typical science (Score:3, Interesting)

    by greginnj (891863) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:20PM (#18026780) Homepage Journal

    And this is exactly why there needs to be more "research for the sake of research" regardless of whether there is any potential direct commercial value from it.
    I disagree; "research for the sake of research" (aka pure research) is overrated as a source of progress. Look at all the Eureka stories we've been discussing, from TFA to the older ones -- most of them are cases of applied research leading to new uses, via error or serendipity. Even Archimedes (the original Eureka moment) was trying to detect fraud [wikipedia.org], not come up with a new law of hydrostatics.

    What we NEED, I would argue, is more researchers who have in-the-trenches practical experience, even (preferably!) in fields other than their own, so they're prepared to recognize those new uses. A little more Heinlein, a little less Asimov. A failed result in one research program is a wild success in a completely different practical application.

    The history of Post-Its [wikipedia.org] is illustrative -- Spencer Silver invented a very poor adhesive for 3M in 1968; Arthur Fry figured out that it could be used for re-usable bookmarks in 1974. How much more money would 3M have made during those intervening years if Silver was a better lateral thinker?

    A second part to the story, not shown in the Wikipedia article, claims that Fry initially ran into opposition from a marketing director, who didn't see any market for the semi-sticky notes. Fry, clearly a man who had what it takes, distributed pilot batches to the secretaries at 3M, with a note telling them to contact the marketing director for refills...

    Silver was the guy doing 'research'. The concept of 'adhesive-on-paper-substrate' (e.g, masking tape) existed already for decades. The closest Fry came to innovation was the idea of using a poor, rather than a strong, adhesive (Silver's ) on a paper substrate -- but he had the practical experience both to see an application, and to get it to the light of day.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:30PM (#18026910)
    ...those words are probably more popular among Darwin award candidates.
  • Re:Moo (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GuyverDH (232921) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @03:58PM (#18028508)
    First, I am not claiming that there are not good doctors still out there. You may be one of them.

    I am claiming that there are too many doctors that are too focused on their specialty that they ignore anything else.

    I walked into a big city doctor's office with multiple fractures in my hand. After the doctor has multiple x-rays taken, reviewed by him, and several others, he proclaims that I have a bad sprain.

    I then go to another doctor (small town, generalist family doctor), he takes one x-ray, with my hand moved to a slightly different position, and finds the fractures, I'd say there's something definitely wrong with today's ideas of specialists.
    There's not enough generalists to go around.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @05:54PM (#18030532) Journal
    "for all the logic and deductive reasoning they use, it ends up being pure chance and blind luck that gives us some of the best discoveries." ...You make it sound like the researcher was walking down the street one day with a dish of cancer and somebody bumped into her with the right chemicals. ...

    The decades of previous work, including her education and work experience, worked steadily towards her being a cancer researcher who was following a logical chain that brought cancer cells and compound together for the discovery.


    But sometimes you DO have a "blind luck" event - which someone with the right education can recognize and develop.

    An example (which I heard from Emmett Leith, one of the inventors of practical holography) was the discovery (not invention) of the neodymium/glass laser.

    Laser researcher (in the "rod of synthetic ruby" days) was home for vacation and took a flash picture using a strobe-light flash on a camera. He happened to notice a red blink from an ashtray. So he fired the flash at it:

      Flash ... Blink!
      Flash ... Blink!
      Flash ... Blink!

    Asking for and receiving the oddball ashtray, he took it in to the lab, along with the flash camera, called everybody together, and ran the demo:

      Flash ... Blink!

    After everybody else had seen and confirmed the phenomenon they smashed the glass and spectroanalyzed the fragments, discovering the neodymium impurity (which had provided the gain - interacting with the total internal reflection of the ashtray surfaces which provided the resonant cavity).

    Then they were successful at making lasers out of rods of neodymium-doped glass - much cheaper than synthetic ruby.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern

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