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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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  • by Trails ( 629752 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:46PM (#18025234)
    "Most important discoveries are not accompanied with a 'Eureka!', rather with a 'Hmmm, that's odd....'"
  • Typical science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jimstapleton ( 999106 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:47PM (#18025240) 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.

    And how many problems could have been solved by now, if instead of someone saying "Hey, this isn't doing what I wanted it to do!" instead they said "Wow, not doing what I wanted it to do, but this effect is pretty darn useful too!"

  • by Grendel Drago ( 41496 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:49PM (#18025278) Homepage
    How odd; I was all ready to yell "DUPE!", but this isn't yet another DCA story. So, for this one, we have that it kills human tumors in vitro, and mouse tumors in vivo. We don't know if it's safe to give to humans. (Maybe we do; I haven't pulled the research paper yet.) Ah, well. Here's a picture of the molecule if anyone wants it. []
  • by rhombic ( 140326 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:50PM (#18025318)
    Reuter's science writer should get the credentials revoked. Gawd, I wish I never RTFA'd the article.

    "She was testing a compound called a PPAR-gamma modulator. It would never normally have been thought of as a cancer drug, or in fact a drug of any kind."

    PPARg modulators are huge drugs, some of the most highly perscribed therapeutics for type II diabetes.

    "Most of the drugs like Taxol affect the ability of tubulin to forms into microtubules. This doesn't do that -- it causes the tubulin itself to disappear. We do not know why."

    So you dosed in enormous doses of a compound, and it killed cells. Every type of "cancer" cells they tested died. They haven't tested primary cell lines (non-cancerous cells). Nor have they tested any tox in mice. They've got no mechanism of action. WTF??? I can kill cancer cells in the lab with large doses of damn near anything. High concentration table salt will kill cancer cells. Doesn't make NaCl an anti cancer agent. Crap. Spit. I hate write ups like this.

  • Patents (Score:3, Insightful)

    by paladinwannabe2 ( 889776 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:53PM (#18025380)
    Thanks to patents, it might be- apparently the compound that kills these cells is already patented. Whoever held the patents is now sitting on a potential goldmine- and they didn't even have to invest in it through research and development.
  • by denis-The-menace ( 471988 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @12:56PM (#18025452)
    "Schaefer's team plans more safety tests in mice. 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."

    Another plus for having a "Great" patent system.
    You have cancer? Go to China or India.
    After a few years of people doing this,
    China and India will be as rich as the USA was 5 years ago.
    (Today, the USA is actually poorer!)
  • Patents (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brian0918 ( 638904 ) <`brian0918' `at' `'> on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:04PM (#18025584)
    From the article: "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."

    So is the public at large now generally accepting the beliefs that not only are biological compounds [] patentable, but that slightly changing them results in something sufficiently different to also be patentable?
  • Re:Moo (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:06PM (#18025634) Journal
    Hey. Allow them some artistic licence. It's amusing that her first reaction to something that in retrospect is so useful was annoyance, and arranging the headline this way illustrates this a lot better than a strictly accurate one would.
  • by TobascoKid ( 82629 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:11PM (#18025700) Homepage
    Seeing as the move to get people to call crackers crackers and not hackers never worked, I really doubt trying to get people call researchers researchers is every going to take off, especially as all researchers are, by definition, scientists anyway.

    Anyway, why will changing the name stop ill-qualified challenges? One researcher in one branch of science could still challenge another researcher in another branch.
  • Another plus for having a "Great" patent system. You have cancer? Go to China or India. After a few years of people doing this, China and India will be as rich as the USA was 5 years ago.

    Amen! By the same token, I think that if you're an individual valuable to business or scientific progress living in the US, and you don't like to see what the US is doing with its power, you have a responsibility to either enter politics, or leave the country.

    Otherwise you're just lending your power to the country with whose actions you disagree, and I find that more than a bit hypocritical.

    Scientists have often wanted to be apolitical, but even refusing to take a specific political stance is itself a political statement. It's simply impossible. Be part of the solution, or... you know the rest.

  • by Bloke down the pub ( 861787 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:22PM (#18025876)

    all researchers are, by definition, scientists anyway.
    Great news - I'm researching ancient Greek, but I always wanted to be a scientist really.
  • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @01:38PM (#18026110)
    This had bothered me since 8th grade English class when I was told that we were going to do research, and I envisioned white lab coats and studying things that had never been done/seen before. What a letdown it was when the teacher told us we were going to spend our time in the library studying what other people had done. Let's put the "re" back into research. What you are doing is true research, what scientists do is original search. (ok, they have to do a lot of research first to see what's already been done before they start to do the original stuff)
  • by Phisbut ( 761268 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:00PM (#18026450)
    I saw this quote somewhere :

    The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" but "That's funny ..."

    It applies quite well here.

  • Re:Moo (Score:3, Insightful)

    by soft_guy ( 534437 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:08PM (#18026576)
    Right. So you are trying to promote "researcher" as a more elite term than "scientist" where in the general publics' mind it going to be like "Oh, he's not a scientist - he is merely a researcher."
  • by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:23PM (#18026820)

    So you're saying I shouldn't find out about things on Slashdot because I could just look in one of a billion scientific journals? Oddly enough, I think most Slashdot readers aren't hardcore scientists and don't spend their time reading scientific journals (seeing as WE CAN'T without paying subscriptions). So if we don't read it here, where SHOULD we read about it? I haven't seen this in the mainstream news.

    Quit being an elitist asshole.

  • by tut21 ( 860295 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:38PM (#18026998)
    To preempt typically thoughtless comments from self-appointed experts, every story on Slashdot should end with the phrase "this news is not particularly new."
  • Re:Don't Be Daft (Score:2, Insightful)

    by QuestionMark Greater ( 1064624 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:42PM (#18027046)

    You have to agree that some of science's interesting advancements have come from unintended experimental results. That's what science is, right? Testing hypothesis. Scientists aren't sure what is going to happen with their experiments. If they did, then there wouldn't be much value in them. And sometimes those results still have value even though they prove to be inconsistent with the original hypothesis.

    The article makes it very clear that the results of Dr. Schaefer's tests were unintended:

    1) She was experimenting on drugs to treat inflammation. Not cancer at all.
    2) Heck, the experiment wasn't even carried out as planned. It was based on a miscalculated quantity of the compound.
    3) She may not have furthered her investigation of the compound had she not mentioned her disappointment, that the cancer cells died, in passing to a colleague.
    4) It appears that the mechanism of how the compound kills the cancer cells is now understood, but not why.

    I think the comment of "typical science" is condescending to the community and the efforts involved with scientific advancements. But I think the analogy of "you put your peanut butter in my chocolate" isn't too far off the mark in this case.

    And as many people have stated earlier, isn't too far off the mark in many scientific discoveries.

    It sounds like the offense is more in reponse to the insuation that typical scientific progress is due to complete chance. Which I agree is not true.

    The seed of this discovery did indeed occur by chance. But I think it is safe to assume the continued research of this compound as a cancer treatment will not continue by randomly mixing it with chocolate and peanut butter. This is where the expertise and experience of Dr. Schaefer and her colleagues will come in handy.

    Who knows? As they continue researching this, they may stumble up a breakthrough for inflamed colon's afterall. Or a sugary treat more delectable peanut butter cups.

  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @02:59PM (#18027304)
    The scientist is still annoyed, because the compound is already patented, and thus will not be profitable as a cancer drug. Therefore, they will work on making another, possibly more toxic or less effective, formula rather than pushing for a human trial.
  • Re:Typical science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Atraxen ( 790188 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @03:14PM (#18027610)
    I'm really wary of this either/or approach. We need both! To use an analogy - an army with either only front line troops or logistics/occupation forces will hold no new ground. The pure research folks push forward the front, and the integrated science and engineering folks make the connections that solidify the progress made to date. There's space enough for all of us (being a basic scientist myself who also crosses the line into looking for applicability).
  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @03:30PM (#18027932)
    Why don't you actually read the article? They tested the modulator in mice and found that it killed cancer cells in them with no ill effects. So the important part of the article is not that it kills cancer cells. It's that it kills cancer cells without major damage to other cells.

    Way to go, captain obvious!

    Read it. Why don't you read a thousand or so J Med Chem articles and browse PubMed for a decade or so and get back to me. Then you might know that a mouse is a Petri dish with whiskers. Killing cancer cells, even if it were true that you could put all the other types of primate-specific cells in the dish with them and they were not harmed, does not tell you how the chemical will interfere with the huge number of subtle intra- and extra-cellular messenger-receptor processes that keep your system humming.

    And it's Dr. captain obvious to you.
  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @03:33PM (#18028002)
    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.

    Furthermore, most cancers in mice can be cured with the biochemical equivalent of a dirty look.

    Humans are exceptionally long-lived for mammals. The average mammal lives about a billion of its own heartbeats. Humans live two billion. this massively delayed senescence is due in part to effective tumour-supressor genes. From an evolutionary perspective, this may have to do with grandparents/elders being the primary inter-generational transmitters of culture, knowledge and tradition.

    The upshot is that cancers that can survive in humans have already bypassed internal defences that would drop-kick most mouse cancers out of the stadium. So we see lots and lots of compounds that cure cancer in mice but have almost no effect in humans, even though they are non-toxic.

    Using mouse models is still reasonable for preliminary testing and understanding of pathways, but the popular press treating mouse results as more than mildly interesting is not generally justified.
  • Re:Moo (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zugok ( 17194 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @03:59PM (#18028536)
    Scientist is a discipline of thinking, researcher is role. I would think the correct title would be scientific researcher.

    Debate and flame.
  • by LeDopore ( 898286 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @05:30PM (#18030118) Homepage Journal
    So, does that mean you think the professional journalists are doing a fine job?

    At the very least, their incentives are to scare and sensationalize. Don't criticize something until you have something better to replace it with.
  • by mlyle ( 148697 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @06:30PM (#18031134)
    The tanning agents are being researched because they have the possibility of preventing a heck of a lot of cases of skin cancer-- by protecting people against the sun BEFORE damage occurs. Also, people might go outside to tan themselves less with an alternative.

    (But even if you're going to the beach, there's a benefit and prevented skin damage by taking this first, other than your boner showing through your swim trunks).

    So, it's not quite so silly, eh?
  • Re:Moo (Score:2, Insightful)

    by markbt73 ( 1032962 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @06:40PM (#18031298)

    She IS a scientist. I'm a scientist. If you know how science works, and you test hypotheses to eliminate the ones that don't work, you're a scientist. Track down a short in an electrical system, and you've just conducted a scientific inquiry. Now you're a scientist too.

    The title "scientist" carries with it no inherent authority; this is as it should be. It is the people who shout "Science is a religion" who attempt to give weight to the title of "scientist." And to say that someone "is not a scientist" and discount her work because of it, or to say "this is true because scientists say so," is to fall into the logical trap of an appeal to authority. Appeals to authority are necessary to prop up religions, but in the realm of science they are considered a fallacy.

    If anything, we need to use the term "scientist" MORE freely, because it drives home the point that science is democratic, available to all, "open-source" if you will. To make arbitrary statements about who is or is not a "real scientist" is to place science on a pedestal and reinforce the idea that it's "hard," and lend credence to the fallacy of an appeal to authority.

  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:56PM (#18032388) Homepage
    Therefore, they will work on making another, possibly more toxic or less effective, formula rather than pushing for a human trial.

    Or possibly less toxic or more effective. The argument is not that they have to keep working -- they should do that anyway -- but rather that unused patents should be revoked.
  • by nanoakron ( 234907 ) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @09:11PM (#18033272)
    Where the fuck do you get your cynicism from?

    Yeah, that's right - all cancer researchers are only out for a quick buck and fuck every possible cure that gets in their way.

    Yeah, cancer researchers are holding back the true cures until we pay them enough.

    Yeah, cancer research laboratories don't employ people suffering from cancer themselves. It's only the lay public that suffer from cancer, not scientists and stuff.

    You fucking retard.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead