Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Serendipity Baby! Part 2

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

What is serendipity in the scientific world? Simply put, it is making a great discovery by complete accident. Many of our world's greatest finds have been "mistakes." Columbus discovering the New World is an example of how a goof can become gold.

In a post from last July, Just One Suck Can Show A Lot, I wrote about a few serendipitous scientific discoveries. Very recently, however, it seems good luck has struck the scientific community once again.

Katherine L. Schaefer, Ph.D., a research assistant professor within the Department of Medicine, Gastroenterology and Hepatology Division, at the University of Rochester Medical Center and her fellow collegues might have stumbled upon a new treatment for cancer due to a lab SNAFU.

The researchers were originally looking for new ways to reduce inflammation seen in Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, bowel diseases that cause pain and diarrhea. Specifically, they were comparing the effect on inflammation of encouraging the action of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma protein (PPARgamma protein) against discouraging it with inhibitor compounds.

The team conducted these experiments using colorectal cancer cells for their experiments because they originate from normal gut cells and share some of their qualities. Unlike normal gut cells, however, cancer cells don't die when removed from the gut wall. That's what makes cancer cells so dangerous. The damn things just don't die. But it also makes them great for studying.

During the experiments with the PPARgamma modulators, the cancer cells kept dying before she could finish gathering data.

“I made a calculation error and used a lot more [PPARgamma proteins] than I should have. And my cells died,” Schaefer said.

Dr. Lawrence J. Saubermann heard her complaining that she kept killing her cancer cells, and quickly realized just what they might have accidently discovered: A potentially new treatment that "pretty much every epithelial tumor cell lines we have seen,” Schaefer reported. (Epithelial cells line organs and also make up skin).

It also killed colon tumors in mice without making the mice sick, the team reported in the journal International Cancer Research.

More tests are needed, but the research looks promising.

For fun, here are another few scientific wonders discovered by complete accident:

Velcro. Georges de Mestral was a Swiss engineer that would walk his dog near the Swiss Alps everyday. He noticed that there were these annoying Burdock seeds that would stick to his dog and his clothing. His curiosity got the best of him, and after examining how these seeds stuck to stuff, he invented the hook and loop fastener system used in Velcro. Drunken idiots that don the Velcro suit and hurl themselves against a loop-stripped wall thank you.

Asparatime. James Schlatter, a G.D. Searle & Co. chemist, was working on a new tetrapeptide in connection with an anti-ulcer project they were working on. He accidentally spilled some aspartylphenylalanine methyl ester on his hand. Later in the day, he licked his fingers to pick up a piece of paper and tasted something very sweet. He went back to the lab and tasted what was left over in a test tube (something I don't recommend other chemists to try). Sure enough, it was tasty! Dieters and diabetics thank you.

The World Wide Web. Despite what many think, Al Gore did not invent the internet. Two physics researchers, Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreesen wanted to build a tool for researchers at CERN (a Swiss Physics laboratory) could exchange ideas and publish papers. The two put together a language called HTML, a system called ENQUIRE, and a browser called Mosaic. And the world wide web was born. Horny people downloading porn thank you.


Perplexio said...

The bit about Aspartame made me think of the scene in Real Genius where Chris gives Mitch a taste of a mysterious substance. Mitch asks what it is and Chris responds, "I'm not sure, I found it in the biology lab." Mitch starts spitting it out when Chris says, "Just kidding, it's yogurt."

Something tells me that movie nails what scientists are REALLY like moreso than a lot of action movies or dramas do. (How many labs have you been in that ARE full of test tubes with colorful substances bubbling and emitting gases?)

The Phoenix said...

Bubbling and emitting gases?

Sounds like my old frat house.

Tai said...

I was reading something the other day that was all about the fact that many, many scientific 'mistakes' are never published or recorded because they appear to be 'wrong'.
Seems to me that we're missing out on a whole slew of information that another scientists eyes might be able to use.
I think that all experiments, regardless of success ought to be published...for the sake of a potential unseen success.

Oh, and Phoenix? No eating the experiments.

Perplexio said...

On a rather non-sequitir Real Genius note:

"Your mother puts license plates on your underwear? How do you sit?!?!"

BrianAlt said...

No, of course Al Gore didn't INVENT the Internet. There was BITNET and ARPNET before the Internet and that's how the Internet came about. That being said, he was a Senator at the time and was championing the proliferation of nodes on the Internet. And every cause needs a champion. So he did have something to do with it.

Cut the robot some slack, huh?

ajooja said...

I was sitting on the bench during a basketball game my senior year. I put my hand on my face and smelled something like ... uh ... pussy.

(Sorry. Couldn't think of another word this late in the day.)

I stuck my hand under my teammate's nose and said, "Smell this."

He said, "Smells like pussy. What have been doing?"


I licked my hand. It tasted like it too.

I'm here to tell you, if I had any idea about the exact combination of sweat, basketball leather, and God knows what else caused this chemical reaction I'd be a millionaire.

Jillian said...

lol that's good Phoenix - "Drunken idiots that don the Velcro suit and hurl themselves against a loop-stripped wall thank you."

Ahhh the joys of MXC -

Just thought I'd comment and let you know that I'm still lurking on your blog. :-)

Reiki 4 Life said...

hey phoenix, I lost your email address, but wanted to say hello. Hope all is well and the new year is treating you well. The blog is looking great!

kate said...

lol... necessity breeds creativity... so what does creativity breed then?

True creativity - brings into being something which has not previously existed - We may not fully understand this very special faculty, but at least we can recognize it when it manifests itself into something else.

I think it takes extreamly intelligent people to come up with the technical bits and bobs, but its often the average iq creative person who can see past that all and create usefullness.

cheers! Kate

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Damn! How come my f*ck ups are always just.....f*ck-ups???


The Phoenix said...

tai, Everything I attempt to cook is an experiment.

perplexio, It's a moral imperative.

brianalt, Someone needs to change his batteries.

ajooja, OK...that whole experience needs to be a scene in a movie or something.

jillian, MXC - one of my all-time greats. It's a sure way to make me laugh.

meredith, Looks like you're doing well. I hope you post more, as I'd like to learn more about reiki healing.

kate, excellent points. Creativity is the closest thing we can feel to being God-like.

The Phoenix said...

stacy, Oh...there's got to be some silver lining somewhere in those f*ckups!

On My Watch said...

that's so great about the cancer research.

and I love all of your examples of happy accidents...let's not forget viagra. ;)

(as far as Ajooja goes...if the hay-hay smells like sweat and basketballs, then I'd think twice before slam-dunking that shit - something's very, very wrong there.) lol.

The Phoenix said...

My first post back in 2006 also talked about Viagra originally for blood pressure.

Minoxidil, or Rogaine, was also an oral agent for blood pressure.

KC said...

I'm with StaceyTPQ on this one.

the amoeba said...

Ol' Isaac hit the nail right on the proverbial head.

Only one problem. None of perplexio's images hit real science these days. Most of us are just paperweights. Electronic version. 'Scuse me while I file another administrative report and draft another grant proposal ... none of which are the least bit amused about how the Post-it Note adhesive was discovered. Unless they can use it to prove that you don't need any research funding after all.

Keshi said...

Kudos to Cancer research!


angel, jr. said...

I once saw a Twilight Zone where an alien was trying to give these people something. They were suspicious of it and destroyed it, but then found out it was a cure for cancer!!

I don't know why this post made me think of the the Twilight Zone. I usually fall asleep to that show.

I'm babbling. Can you tell my brain has turned to mush after trying to memorize so many new treatments/cures/medication/surgery techniques etc..etc..etc..

:P fuzzbox said...

And don't forget Post-It notes. The perfect way to embarass passed out drunks without causing permenant ink marks.

Phats said...

I am really sorry I am so tired I couldn't digest this and think of anything smart to say. I didn't want to be rude and not comment though. I know my 2 yr old nephews are happy for velcro

6 hrs of teaching tennis is my excuse!

ozymandiaz said...

Aspertame is one we could do without. I don't know if a cancer causing excito-toxin should be considered a breakthru.

The Phoenix said...

KC, Maybe one of your mistakes will become serendipitous someday.

amoeba, Real science doesn't include ass kissing and budgeting???

keshi, Hopefully it's a real treatment that the cancer cells can't get around.

angel jr., That's the opposite of serendipity. That' Get some rest.

Fuzz, Yup - my post last year included Post-It Notes. Ever see the car that was covered by thousands of them? What a great prank.

Phats, Geez...6 hours. That would drive me nuts.

Ozy, But it's oh so sweet. Like Olestra. What's a little anal leakage???

Godwhacker said...

This post reminded me of Karry Mullis who's well documented experiments with LSD led to the discovery of PCR “Polymerase Chain Reaction” which is the backbone of all modern DNA science. According to Mullis "I had to be down with the molecules."

Carmel said...

a book should be written on mistakes that have worked out great for science.
Interesting read thank you. ALso, I hope you are doing well, I always like reading your stuff. :)
Oh and I like your side bar, are you a fan of Heroes? My brother is hooked.

jay lassiter said...

I am totally allergic to aspartame. i react to it the way lactose-intolerant types do to milk. i am the only one of the world left drinking non-diet soda these days.

David Amulet said...

That is promising research. Good news! And a good recap of the precedents. Didn't Post It NOtes also come up like this?

-- david

Dan said...

Serendpity is really cool. It's when the Tao/Nature/God takes over and does things that we're too stupid to notice.

Awesome stuff.

goldennib said...

There are no such things as mitakes.

Mr Shife said...

Wow that is awesome about the cancer research. I really hope it turns out to be a major breakthrough.
Now if they could only come up with a cure for Cubs fans.

Grafs said...

Teflon was also an accidental discovery. They should accidentally discover an alternate. Teflon peals off of pans and causes cancer.

Sherri said...

I always wondered what type of person would dream up something like velcro.....

As for the cancer thing, that's very exciting to hear. Having several relatives that have either suffered from or died from cancer, is scares the heck out of me.

The Phoenix said...

Cancer is a scary thing. One way or another, all of our lives will be affected by it.

The accidental finding is showing very promising results thus far.

Fated said...

As always, I am entertained and impressed.

cube said...

Serendipity. Chance. Luck. Fate. Hard work. It's all good.

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