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Cancer Drug Found; Scientist Annoyed 349

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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  • Moo (Score:3, Informative)

    by Chacham ( 981 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:44PM (#18025192) Homepage Journal
    Cancer Drug Found; Scientist Annoyed

    Um, no. The "Scientist Annoyed" came first. Indeed, had she not been annoyed she it may not have been brought to her attention that she suceeded.

    A scientist was frustrated

    And stop saying scientist. She is a researcher. The articles calls her a researcher. I'll bet she will even call herself a researcher. And, she is relevant because she was researching.
  • Re:Moo (Score:5, Informative)

    by jimstapleton ( 999106 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:49PM (#18025284) Journal
    uhh, you know that a researcher is a scientist right? Last I checked, scientists researched things to figure out how they worked... and researchers did the same damn thing. The Ph.D. if you think that is a requirement, is not.
  • by Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:50PM (#18025306)
    She wasn't even looking for a cure for cancer, but rather a cure for an intestinal disease. She just used cancerous cells in the trials because they're quicker to grow and more resistant to experiment.
  • by CorporalKlinger ( 871715 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:51PM (#18025342)
    It might be wise for whomever posted this to read the article more completely before publishing. PPAR-gamma is a receptor found within/on cells, NOT a separate "magic compound." This is old news, anyway - PPAR-gamma's effects with respect to cancer have been well understood for months now.

    Source: ene&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=Graphics&list_uids=5468 []

    Notice how it says "implicated in cancer"? That information has been there for quite some time. Time for people to stop posting this antiquated junk as "new news."
  • by Grendel Drago ( 41496 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:52PM (#18025370) Homepage
    It's an Isaac Asimov saying, as far as I know (though I haven't seen a primary source). "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discovery, is not 'Eureka' (I found it!), but 'That's funny...'"
  • by Retric ( 704075 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:58PM (#18025498)
    RTFA again "It also killed colon tumors in mice without making the mice sick, they reported in the journal International Cancer Research."
  • Re:Moo (Score:5, Informative)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <> on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:01PM (#18025542) Journal
    I would consider myself a scientist, because I am interested in and conversant with science and the scientific method...In my case mainly physics, with a solid grounding in inorganic chemistry and biology.

    I am not, however, a researcher specializing in one aspect of scientific inquiry.

    It's becoming an important distinction these days because so many "scientists" who are no better qualified than I am, are none-the-less using their status as "scientist" to question the results put out by scientists with in-depth knowledge backed by significant practical experience in the study of their specialty (e.g. a researcher).
  • Don't Be Daft (Score:5, Informative)

    by Petersko ( 564140 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:02PM (#18025562)
    "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."

    Oh please. 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. Like it was the scientific equivalent of "You got chocolate in my peanut butter!"

    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. If any of it was blind luck it was perhaps a tiny little sliver at the end. Really not even that was luck. After all, even though the results were unexpected, clearly she was on the track to something. No luck required.

    I think it's insulting to her dismiss the roles that logic and deductive reasoning played in arranging these circumstances.
  • by caffeinemessiah ( 918089 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:02PM (#18025568) Journal
    Actually Viagra was invented to treat angina, at which it was a spectacular failure. The better-known use of Viagra was actually a side-effect that appeared in (if I remember) 80% of test subjects. So even Viagra was a sort of accident.
  • Re:Moo (Score:5, Informative)

    by mikael ( 484 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:06PM (#18025622)
    The seniority system goes something like this:

    research director
    research assistant/researcher

    The research director can approve projects for research.
    The scientist can propose projects for research - also supervise the project
    The research assistant/research carries out the work required to complete the project
  • Just Like Penicillin (Score:4, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:06PM (#18025624) Homepage Journal
    Penicillin [], the panacea [] of the last generation of medical science, was discovered accidentally by Alexander Fleming []. Now a cancer cure, our era's "holy grail", has perhaps been found in a similar accident.

    It seems that the "error" part of the scientific method's "trial and error" process is even more important than the planned "trial" part.

    Maybe we should have more scientific research conducted like jazz, which is sometimes described as "gracefully exploiting errors".
  • by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:11PM (#18025706) Journal
    You should read TFA, no, not the one linked there but the one published by the researcher. it is available here []. Of course you can only enter if you have a subscription OR your university has access to it. Mine has, and I took the time to take a look to the article :

    "PPAR Y inhibitors reduce tubulin protein levels by a PPAR, PPAR and proteasome-independent mechanism, resulting in cell cycle arrest, apoptosis and reduced metastasis of colorectal carcinoma cells"

    Measurement of metastasis in vivo

    Male severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mice, 6 weeks of age, were maintained in a specific pathogen-free environment. Experiments were performed according to the guidelines of Yokohama City University. At day 0, 2 106 HT-29 cells were injected into the spleen. After inoculation, the mice were randomized into 2 treatment groups (each with n = 6) and 1 control group (n = 6). Starting at day 1 and daily thereafter, T0070907 (1 or 5 mg/kg/day) or control (1% DMSO vehicle) was administered orally. These concentrations were chosen based on initial pilot experiments to detect morbidity based on T0070907 alone. At 1 or 5 mg/kg/day, no increased morbidity (based on grooming, activity and food intake) was noted in mice with or without injected tumor cells. Four weeks later, the number and size of metastatic lesions in the liver were determined. Tumor volume was calculated as previously described.
    and in the conclussion:

    hese results demonstrate that treating CRC cell lines with high doses of PPAR inhibitors leads to disruption of microtubule function, alterations in cell morphology, cell migration, cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. In addition, definitive antitumor effects are seen in vivo, after oral administration in a CRC mouse model.
    So yeah, they tested in mice and yeah it looks promising. Of course it might not be as "newsworthy" as media wants to make it look. Hundreds of similar articles can be obtained via any day :)
  • by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:26PM (#18025924)
    Actually PPAR-gamma, as well as other related compounds have been used in a number of clinical trials for other diseases such as Alzheimer's. Some of the risker clinical trials (Phase I/II) have already been done, so the safety of the compounds in humans is already known. That takes off a good bit of time and expense in drug development when you don't have to test a new drug to make sure it doesn't kill people.
  • by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:35PM (#18026068)
    er, sorry, make that PPAR-gamma activating drugs have been tested. Didn't mean to leave that part of the sentence out. PPAR-gamma is already present in the cells, you just need to crank up it's activity.
  • Re:Moo (Score:2, Informative)

    by pionzypher ( 886253 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:36PM (#18026080)
    What would you define as a scientist if Katherine Schaefer [](G-cache) isn't one?

    How would she be considered irrelevant? She's the one who stumbled on this after all.
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:43PM (#18026194) Homepage
    Well, 99% of the time that'd be true. We know of plenty things that kills cancer, because it kills cells altogether and you can probably think of a dozen off the top of your head. The discovery isn't "damn, my cancer cells died" it's "wtf, the other cells are still alive".
  • by Petersko ( 564140 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:52PM (#18026314)
    As others have pointed out, she wasn't doing cancer research. However, I would point out that whatever she WAS doing, she was working with cancerous cells.

    Regardless, I maintain it was much less luck than determined methodology that brought this forward. A fortunate event happened at the tip of decades of buildup.
  • by kzinti ( 9651 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:02PM (#18026498) Homepage Journal
    Isaac Asimov []
  • Re:Mouse Cancer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bastian ( 66383 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:43PM (#18027066)
    This might have been meant as a joke, but there's a healthy dose of truth to it. There's enough physiological difference between mice and humans that you can't trust research on them to be applicable to humans. This is why animal testing has to be followed up with extensive human trials before a drug can be released to the market.

    For example, many animal trials (mice in particular) didn't show cigarette smoke to be nearly as much of a cancer risk as it is for humans. This research data was in turn used by Big Tobacco in their defense back when they were still trying to pretend that smoking isn't so bad.

    Similarly, penicillin's release to the market was delayed because it had a tendency to kill lab animals.
  • Re:Patents (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 15, 2007 @03:44PM (#18028230)
    The patent application (no patent yet) can be viewed here: TO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2F srchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220030134859%22.PGN R.&OS=DN/20030134859&RS=DN/20030134859 []

    From the app, it looks like this stuff can cure just abaout anything:

    "diseases such as senile osteoporosis, postmenopausal osteoporosis, disuse osteoporosis, steroid-induced osteoporosis, fracture, osteogenesis imperfecta, rachitis, senile arthrosis, obesity, emaciation, type I and type II diabetes mellitus, arteriosclerosis, lipid metabolism disorder, pancreatitis, autoimmune diseases, glucose metabolism disorder, diabetic neuropathy, diabetic complications, hyperuricemia, leukemia, functional disorders in retinoid related receptors, liver dysfunction, anemia, cancers, inflammation, Basedow's disease, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, eating disorders, hypertension and renal diseases."
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @05:42PM (#18030332) Journal
    Heard a variant of that from a teaching fellow. In that version it wasn't quite so straightforward:

    F4C2 is horribly toxic. They had a big tank of this compressed gas and had set up the wall of glassware (with great care) for some experiment. They hooked it up, opened the valve, and nothing came out. (Yet the weight, as above, indicated that the tank WAS still full.)

    The concern was that the valve was clogged, and that the tank still contained the poisonous gas under high pressure. So any attempt to open it - or even closely examine the valve - could lead to the sudden release of the gas and the death of all in the room and many in the building. Yet how could they dispose of it? And what HAD happened, anyhow?

    (This was like a blown fuse in an electrical lab: The initial trouble is just a symptom of something underlying, which needs to be investigated, if only to prevent a recurrence.)

    Eventually, after much deliberation, one of the experimenters took his life in his hands and cut open the tank, discovering the white powder.

    They immediately realized it had polymerized (probably due to a contaminant) and were hot on the trail of a new and very interestin/useful plastic - starting with a large sample which told them what useful properties it would have and knowing exactly what the monomer in question was.

    = = = =

    Discovery of nylon was a similar accident: A solution was left on a window sill and turned cloudy when exposed to light. Fortunately the chemist decided to examine it to figure out what had happened rather than just dumping it - and thus were born synthetic fabrics.
  • by ignavus ( 213578 ) on Friday February 16, 2007 @02:49AM (#18035592)
    Especially if you are a woman.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor