Scientists have undergone a continuous process to discover the cure for cancer. John R. Masters discusses the high and low points of the major discovery of HeLa cells which comprise the fist cancer cell line. The author’s major concern is the turmoil that occurred in the scientific community due to the lack of authentication of HeLa cells by the researcher. As well as the lack of integrity within the peer reviews of scientific studies involving HeLa cells. Due to the accessibility of the HeLa cells, many different strains were created due to lack of adequate peer review by researchers.
The turmoil that has occurred is an excellent example of what can happen due to the failure to follow scientific processes. The article was set up very well to show how a major breakthrough with the development of the HeLa cells spun out of control over time. One of the major reasons for chaos regarding the HeLa cells is due to the lack of adequate peer review. The purpose of peer review is to eliminate false cell lines and validate work. Once they discovered that errors were being made in the authenticity of HeLa cell strains, corrections needed to be initiated.
Scientists should have been validating that strains were in fact from the origin they claimed to be. By stating everything that the peer review would have fixed, the author makes it clear how important peer review is. The author mentions that there is a campaign to have false cell lines renamed with their correct composition. This serves to fix the incorrect strains that are out there. With advances in technology, testing can be done once strains are created to validate that the components of a strain are indeed what they claim to be.
Technology has continued to grow over time. When the first strain of HeLa cells was cultured, the technology was lacking in order to test the correct composition of the strain. To prevent incidences like this from reoccurring, we now have the tools to distinguish the correct origin of HeLa strains. Instead of shipping out cultures where the origin is incorrect, we can now test and know, for fact, the correct composition of strains. It does not make sense to use a strain of cervical cancer cells to research a cure for liver cancer.
This simple test would regain authentication of HeLa cell lines. Visionaries like Walter Nelson Rees believed in the importance of identifying cross-contaminated strains. The overall validation of scientific research is based on the correct components of cellular strains in which research is conducted. One of the biggest challenges to this solution is a researcher putting aside personal cost, mistakes and scandals. Many scientists were not willing to admit mistakes had occurred within their research.
These scientists refused to relinquish their work as incorrect. Therefore, researchers kept their habits of ignorance and deception in order to continue what they were calling research based off incorrect information. “In 1981, the editor of an influential journal described individuals such as Walter Nelson – Rees as self appointed vigilantes and said it would be tragic if they corrupted the civilized habits of scientists” (318). By saying these researchers are vigilantes; a stigma is placed upon them to be viewed as dishonoring the valuable work of scientists.
However, these researchers were working to preserve the authentication of scientific research. I believe this is what the author meant by using the phrase vigilante. The author correctly highlighted this view of researchers that is responsible for the delay in correcting flawed strains. The author uses logical quotes and citations to support claims. By showing the problem was due to non-authentic strains the only logical solution would be to test for the correct components of the strain.
The major objection that I have is regarding what organization will oversee that tests are in fact conducted and inaccurate stains are being disregarded as instructed? An organization should oversee this work. I am also concerned about the cost to the solution. This will cost researchers time and money to retrace their work for accuracy. Scientists have been researching the cure for cancer for quite some time. It is a continuous process and I now understand part of the delay. Scientists cannot begin to find a cure for cancer if they are using the wrong strain of cells to work with.
You cannot find a cure for Renal Cancer if you are manipulating cervical cancer cells. In order for progress to be made scientists must have the correct variables. A cure for cancer cannot be built off failure to follow the scientific process. With the technology today, it seems feasible to correct past mistakes and continue to work towards finding a cure for cancer.
References Masters, John R. “HeLa Cells 50 Years On: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. ” Nature Reviews 2 (2002): 315-19. Print.