In the book Rigor Mortis, by Richard Harris, the reader learns the reality of modern science: often its credibility is questionable, as universally, the biggest variable of experiments is the quality of which they are handled by researchers. And it is becoming more and more evident that the work they are doing should be called into question. The actual science isn’t always playing the biggest role in the answers we find, often our “discoveries” are the result of rushed scientists with little budget, and sometimes these discoveries aren’t really discoveries at all.
In this chapter specifically, just a fraction of all questionable aspects of today’s science is examined. In that, one thing that really caught my interest was that often the cell lines researchers analyzed were misidentified. This means that the basis of which they were spending millions of dollars worth of research on were wrong. Scientists were being so careless that they were sometimes studying the wrong cells altogether. In this chapter, Richard Harris shares a startiling fact: “A 2007 study estimated that between 18 and 36 percent of all cell experiments use misidentified cell lines.” (96.) This is almost an incomprehensible percentage. It alone, would be an frustrating event for just one researcher to make this mistake, and waste the large amount of time, money and resources it takes to perform a study, but for 36% to be completely wrong? For that much money to be wasted? Most scientists ignore the fact that this is a very present issue, because they are willing to take the gamble that their cell lines are correct, and save themselves the few hundred dollars it would take to have them tested.
Richard Harris brings up the scientific downfall of MDA-MB-435, a cell line hat scientists eagerly obtained, thinking they were studying breast cancer. “It turned out that MDA-MB-435 was an imposter.” (100.) When this cell line was identified as melanoma, many scientists ignored the fact and continued their breast cancer research on the skin cancer cells. “There are now more than 1,000 papers in scientific journals featuring MDA-MB-435, most of them published since Ross’s 2000 report.” (102.) In fact, when MDA-MB-435 is typed into a google search bar, the first article that appears is titled, “Continued use of MDA-MB-435, a melanoma cell line, as a model for human breast cancer, even in year, 2014.” Not only are these researchers using up valuable time and money, but they are holding back biomedicine in making the important discoveries that could save tens of thousands of lives. It is estimated by Cancer.Net that 41,070 people will die this year from breast cancer. Our field of biomedicine may have been much closer to saving those lives, had they made the rational decision, moving on and making valuable discoveries.
It is upsetting that we cannot always trust the people who are supposed to be working to make differences in our health, and who we may rely on someday to save the lives of ourselves and our loved ones. Science should be about more than the money you earn doing it. Science is our future, so it is critical that we can rely on scientists to push us that direction.
I agree with what Danna M. said in her post “Backstabbing Biomed.” Danna ended her writing by saying, “as we go into the future we can always strive to be better than we were.” I think that is the key to moving forward, and if researchers did that, we’d have progressed so much further by this point, rather than spending an extra decade studying the wrong cells in denial.
Anne, I understand the frustration with the biomedical community you’ve gained reading Rigor Mortis. I agree that money should not be a factor that alters the quality of scientific work, and have begun to believe that funding should be made available to properly train scientists and share the astonishing information found within this book. In addition, I admire your reference to Danna’s post, it added depth to your writing. – Mia C.
Your passionate and well-worded response made me realize how extreme the impact of these incorrect studies of misinterpreted cell lines is in the field of biomedical science. When this inaccurate data is published, it acts like an infection in the research field, being read and studied by thousands of scientists that, as you emphasized, waste millions on adding onto those findings. You made the significant point that if scientists could understand the truths about cell line misunderstandings, (like the melanoma imposter for breast cancer) so many lives could be saved, which really surprised the reader and emphasized your point nicely.