Thursday, September 07, 2006

The human body is mad cool, yo

Big biology news today: three teams of scientists (from UNC, Michigan and Hahvahd) jointly published work that hints at the incredibly complex balance of cell proliferation, aging and cancer. The groups each worked with a particular tumor suppressor, p16INK4a, in different tissues. The gene's expression gradually increases with age, and its increased expression seems not only to prevent age-related out-of-control cell growth (cancer=bad), but also prevents stem-cell proliferation (stem cells=good). It's a fascinating and tricky balance. Tumor suppression is increasingly important as we age, but the flip side of that is a loss of the stem cells that are so important for renewing our tissues. I supposed the debate turns to whether we'd rather get cancer or have garden-variety age-related degeneration. From the linked NYT article, one of the lead scientists summed it up optimistically:

“There is no free lunch,’’ Dr. Sharpless said. “We are all doomed.”
From a science standpoint, almost as interesting as the research itself is the fact that three separate groups worked together on something so high-profile. The group from Carolina shared its knockout mice with the other groups, since they were all looking at different tissues. Cool, cooperation in science, putting the common good ahead of egos and careers, yadda yadda, right? Uh... then there's this gem at the bottom of the article:
Press releases by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the University of Michigan attributed the advance to all three teams equally. But the press release issued by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, where Dr. Scadden has an appointment, described him as the leader of the multi-institutional team, with the other two teams confirming his work. Dr. Scadden made no such claim in an interview, and acknowledged Dr. Sharpless’s generosity in lending his mice.
Smacks of the portrayal of Robert Gallo in And the Band Played On. Dude, if you didn't at least make the mice, you better get your institute's PR department under control.

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