Growth factors—hormone-like, biologically active polypeptides that control cell growth and differentiation—have become one of the most actively investigated areas of the life sciences in the 1980s. “They offer great potential,” says researcher Richard A. Roth of the Stanford University School of Medicine, “both for wound healing and for better understanding of unregulated growth of cancers.”

The increasing interest in growth factors is reflected by the number of papers published per year on growth factors, which tripled between 1982 and 1987, according to the Institute for Scientific Information’s on-line retrieval service SciSearch (see graph).

Scientists have increasingly focused their research efforts on growth factors because some of them offer significantly improved therapies for patienta recuperating from surgery or injury.

Epidermal growth factor (EGF), now undergoing clinical trials, is expected to be the first product on the market and will be used in treating skin and eye maladies, as well as stomach...

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