April 2000

Volume 14 Issue 7

The Scientist April 2000 Cover



The Urge to Merge

Graphic: Cathleen Heard SmithKline Beecham and Glaxo Wellcome; Pfizer and Warner-Lambert; Pharmacia & Upjohn and Monsanto; PE Biosystems and Third Wave; Astra and Zeneca. In the last year, many top-tier biotech and pharmaceutical giants have reached definitive agreements to merge. The unions are touted as hostile or friendly, strategic or tactical, market driven, Machiavellian, culturally astute, even desperate. Competition has forced drug companies to up the ante for blockbuster development

New Numbers Support an Old Perception

First came the talk about a trend: Fewer physicians are entering biomedical research. Now come the data: results from a study published in February by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).1 "Opportunities for applying research results to patients have never been greater. At the same time, the number of physician-scientists who can carry out that kind of translational research is declining significantly," comments Kenneth Shine, president of the Institute o

Clinton, Blair Stoke Debate on Gene Data

President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's brief statement of March 14 supporting free access to human genome information unleashed a slew of clichés, including "too little too late" and "water under the bridge." But initial misinterpretation of the statement led to a temporary slide in biotech stocks. By the end of the day, Celera Genomics Corp. of Rockville, Md., had dropped 19 percent, while Incyte Pharmaceuticals of Palo Alto, Calif., plummeted 27 percent. Even thoug



"I've been tagged by a wildlife commission, some environmental people, an agricultural research team, some zoologists, a government group..." www.ScienceCartoonsPlus.com


State Efforts to Fight Tobacco Use Can Save Lives

In the battle to reduce tobacco use, state governments increasingly are being drawn into the front lines. The much-reported settlements between tobacco firms and Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas--which sued tobacco companies to recoup state money spent on treating people with tobacco-related illnesses--inaugurated a new era of state involvement. Because of these settlements and a subsequent master settlement agreement between tobacco firms and the rest of the states, tobacco companies


Antibiotics Revisited (2)

David Carlberg1 should not apologize for "sounding a bit academic" in objecting to my use of the word "antibiotic" in my commentary on the chemotherapy of AIDS.2 It is of vital importance that we avoid confusing our students, our patients, and ourselves by getting our definitions right. If, in Carlberg's words, "an antibiotic is formally defined as a microbial product that kills or inhibits other microbes," then what do we call the new synthetic penicillin derivatives? If we want to call them a

Antibiotics Revisited (1)

In a letter,1 Donald Forsdyke repeatedly refers to the use of antibiotics as a therapy for HIV and factors involved in the generation of antibiotic-resistant HIV variants. It is a well-known fact that antibiotics are used to combat bacterial, not viral, infections. I know of no antibiotic with antiretroviral activity.Patricia N. Fultz, Ph.D.Department of MicrobiologyUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirmingham, AL 1. D.M. Forsdyke, "HAART failure revisited," The Scientist, 14[5]:6, March 6, 20

Cancer Clinical Trials

As the development in cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment progresses and becomes more specific, the need for properly designed clinical trials will increase dramatically. Robert Finn's report on clinical trials1 discussed the barriers to participation, particularly low level of public interest and economic cost. There are a number of other barriers, and these will only be systematically corrected if the whole basis of these trials is reevaluated to include demographic and economic considerati


HBO Special Aims to Demystify Cancer

If you're a cancer specialist seeking participants for your clinical trial, take note. The floodgates may well open as Cancer: Evolution to Revolution hits the HBO lineup and its companion Web site launches on the Internet. This two-and-a-half-hour informational documentary is a timely demonstration of television's ability to rise to viewers' needs with true public service programming, providing dozens of contact phone numbers and Web addresses for virtually every cancer organization in the cou


Forensic Scientist Henry Chang-Yu Lee

Henry Lee How many scientists can claim the simultaneous titles of state police commissioner, chief state fire marshal, chief building inspector, director of the state forensic laboratory, and university professor? Probably a safe answer is only one, Connecticut's Henry Lee. The development of the field of forensic sciences, the application of science in solving legal issues, parallels Lee's career. As a young man, Lee was a police captain in the Taipei Police Department in Taiwan. There,


Curiosity and the Scientific Method

Graphic: Cathleen Heard The amazing strides forward in biomedical research over the past two decades, led by an American triumvirate of academia, industry, and government, are not without accompanying concerns. One such worry is that curiosity could become an endangered justification for the conduct of life science. Basking in the sun of its results, biomedical research in particular may risk becoming too results-oriented. Increasingly, universities and teaching hospitals are turning to private


Reconsidering Asilomar

Paul Berg Regulating biotechnological discoveries hasn't gotten any easier since scientists and policymakers faced their first major challenge 25 years ago. In 1973, recombinant DNA technology burst onto the scene.1 The response was remarkably swift. A group of scientists led by Paul Berg, now director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Research at the Stanford University School of Medicine, called for an international moratorium on recombinant DNA research, fearing that the technol

News Notes

Cancer Registry Collaboration The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently officially announced a collaboration to develop a cancer surveillance and cancer control research system. It's the latest of several collaborative efforts--the two agencies often overlap on projects involving areas such as surveillance, tobacco control, and dietary intervention. CDC director Jeffrey Koplan and NCI director Richard Klausner signed a memorandum of underst


Forensics Fights Crimes Against Wildlife

Courtesy of National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab.A collection of confiscated and/or donated skins, trophies, and fur coats at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory. Try suggesting to Ed Espinoza that in forensic sciences, wildlife work is the poor sister. The deputy director of the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Ore., may mention something about anthropomorphism, followed by comparative statistics on populations of walruses and small towns, or the n

Hot Paper

Three Papers, One Conclusion

For this article, Nadia S. Halim interviewed Tony Kouzarides, professor in the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research Campaign, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; Annick Harel-Bellan, research director at Laboratoire Oncogenese, Differenciation et Transduction du Signal, Villejuif, France; and Douglas Dean, head of the division of molecular oncology at Washington University, St. Louis. Data from the Web of Science (ISI, Philadelphia) show that these papers have been cited significantly more of


Seeking Safer Treatment

Since the death last September of an Arizona teenager, the first person to die of gene therapy, many gene therapists are looking to gutless adenovirus vectors to mend the reputation of adenovirus-based gene therapy. Gutless vectors are named for their lack of adenovirus genes. If, as expected, they prove safer and provide longer lasting therapeutic gene expression, adenovirus vectors like the one that killed Jesse Gelsinger will likely be phased out for most diseases. Why Gelsinger died r

Research Notes

Telomerase Structure Researchers at John Hopkins University recently elucidated the structure of telomerase by comparing the telomerase RNA genes of 32 different vertebrate species (J.L. Chen et al., "Secondary structure of vertebrate telomerase RNA," Cell, 100:503-14, March 3, 2000). Responsible for the elongation of telomeres--the caps on chromosomes that prevent chromosome degradation--telomerase is a potential cancer drug target since, when overly active, it can contribute to the growth of c


A Step Ahead

Reverse transcriptase-PCR (RT-PCR) combines cDNA synthesis with amplification of target sequences as a tool for detecting mRNA expression. The sensitivity of this technique makes it especially useful for detection of low-abundance transcripts. However, RT-PCR reactions can be tedious to set up and perform. Typically, cDNAs are produced in one reaction and transferred to a second tube for PCR amplification. This procedure is time consuming and introduces multiple opportunities for cross-contamina


Take AIM

Melanoma cells stained with AIM melanoma (HMB45) strips Losing sight of the "big picture" concerns many researchers embroiled in running gels and performing assays. Visualizing a protein of interest in intact tissue sections can reconnect studies to the physiological realm and complement other types of data. However, immunohistochemical antigen-detection techniques can be daunting for the uninitiated. In October 1999, The Binding Site of San Diego, released the AIM (Antibody Impregnated Membrane

Have It Three Ways

Novagen's pTriEx-1 vector contains bacterial, insect, and mammalian promoters. When studying protein function, researchers must often express a protein of interest in different systems for different applications. High-yield requirements might call for cloning of the target gene into an Escherichia coli expression vector, whereas subsequent activity studies might benefit from insect or mammalian cell expression. Obtaining the perfect balance between yield and activity may also inspire testing of

Technology Profile

Six Degrees of Separation

HPLC Products Characteristics of commonly used columns for biomolecules Rheodyne's automated HPLC column selector Simplification might be the single common goal of most scientific disciplines. Whether the entity of interest is an equation, a reaction, or an organism, the details need to be defined if the complexity of the whole picture is to be understood. In the research laboratory, many techniques exist for separating complex biological mixtures to attain the simple facts. Some of these meth

The Divine Cytokine

Tools for Cytokine Research Companies producing cytokines Courtesy of Alexis CorpCytokine Network Many proteins and peptides affect the growth, identity, and function of eukaryotic cells. Very often their effects are highly pleiotropic, making exact boundaries and distinctions between proteins such as hormones, growth factors, and cytokines difficult to pin down. The result is a nomenclature tangle almost as complex as the regulatory circuits these molecules mediate. Although this treatment of


Designer Degrees or Academic Alchemy?

What skills does a research scientist need to get ahead in the profession? Sometimes it's what you know outside of science that fits the bill. There is a growing need in the biotech and biomedical industries for science-trained professionals who also have practical computing skills and business acumen--graduates with hands-on experience and an interdisciplinary background. To fill that need, some institutions are offering various versions of a professional master's degree (PMD). Designed t

Forging Alliances with Industry

Virtually all of the professional master's degree (PMD) programs have consulted with industry along the way, and each academic institution maintains strong communication through retreats, conferences, and meetings. "We've been involving industry pretty heavily, not so much in developing curricula--we're doing that ourselves--but certainly in getting feedback from them on industry trends and jobs, and lining them up for internships for our students," says Keck Graduate Institute's David Gal


The Asilomar Process: Is It Valid?

Illustration: A. Canamucio There once was a feeling in society--an "awe" if you will--that science was nearly perfect and would make everything okay: If there is a problem, don't worry, science can come up with the answer. Cancer--no big deal. Cheap energy--why not. Fixing genetic abnormalities--a piece of cake. However, over the past few decades, science has lost a great deal of public support. With Three Mile Island and Love Canal, thalidomide and DES, mad cow disease, the Challenger explosion

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