Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Actual Case

Let's take a look at a real Biotech research project. We'll break it down piece by piece in laymans terms. I want to make this as clear as possible. (Do scientists ever think this way?)

TNF alpha is a popular drug target. There are three monoclonal antibody drugs against TNF alpha already on the market. TNF alpha has a number of functions and most of them are not known. I won't discuss the science behind our understanding of TNF alpha. I will say that there are three drugs against TNF alpha. They are intended to alleviate rheumatoid arthritis and Crohns disease. The drugs reduce the effects of extra TNF alpha in the body by binding to it thus preventing it's usual interactions.

Another way of getting rid of TNF alpha is to use siRNA. DNA makes messenger RNA which makes proteins. If you take a small piece of the RNA however, it can result in the destruction of the messenger RNA by a newly discovered mechanism called RNA interferance. That's the story anyway and biotech is sticking to it. So if you want to start a biotech company you can choose TNF alpha as your drug target and siRNA as the way of zapping your target. It's that simple.

There appears to be only one company attempting this simple thing. They have over 200 mice sitting in formaldahyde waiting to be "scored" for arthritis. "Scoring" is an arbitrary method of measuring joint inflammation. The bigger the inflammation the higher the score. The goal then is to get as low a score as you can. You start with mice that have been bred to have high levels of arthritis or high scores. You use one of the antibodies as a positive control and a saline solution as a negative control. You also have a "scrambled" siRNA that has a nucleic acid sequence that is not linked to any known protein.

The mice, as I've stated, are still in formaldahyde. They have not been scored. The reason is due to an obvious lack of efficacy. Even the anti-TNF alpha control mice had developed arthritis. So big deal. It didn't work. The only place you will here about this is here on the Cargo Cult Scientist. I can't tell you what company did the experiment because I once worked there and I don't want any reprisals from them. But what they did with this experiment is wrong. The committed a cargo cult sin. They didn't report the results because they didn't get what they wanted.

In mainstream science they are struggling to define scientific fraud. Where is the line between fraud and sloppy practices? There are cases for example where a researcher will make up data. That is flat out fraud. There are cases where one out of ten experiments obtains the data that is desired. Using the favorable set of data and ignoring the rest is a lesser offense than manufacturing data. Yet to the Cargo Cult Scientist it is as bad. The only data that is useful is data the can be reproduced. If you sit in a board room or you are an editor of a journal you may not be aware of how many tries the researcher attempted before getting the data that supports his paper. This is a shame. If you are a lowly lab tech you probably know what is happening but you are powerless to stop it. It probably doesn't even matter in the big picture. Like the TNF alpha story I've just reported, most projects will fade away. The trick to being a Cargo Cult Scientist is to make sure that happens smoothly. As long as no one finds out about it you live to write another paper. Whether or not anyone uses that paper is another story. The chances are that no one will ever use siRNA to relieve the pressures of having excessive TNF alpha in their bodies. It won't matter however. There are plenty of drugs in the pipeline. Mostly they are me-too drugs. The research was me-too and the fade away will be a me-too method of resolving the scientific dilemma. Brush it under the rug and no one will know about it.

Perhaps this is why it's best to lab personel powerless.

1 comment:

Blogger said...

Did you know that you can create short links with Shortest and make $$$$ for every visit to your shortened urls.