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Still Early Days

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Back in 2006, Duke University's Anil Potti and his collaborator Joseph Nevins, also at Duke, published a paper in Nature Medicine that indicated that microarray analysis of patient tumors, to look at their molecular properties, could predict how those tumors would respond to chemotherapy. Two biostatisticians, Keith Baggerly and Kevin Coombes at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, found errors in that and other studies from Potti and Nevins. But as the New York Times notes, not much came of Baggerly and Coombes' objections until last year when Potti was accused of falsifying his résumé, as our sister publication Daily Scan reported; Potti since resigned from Duke, Nevins no longer directs a genomics center there, and the team's papers have been subjected to corrections and retractions, and clinical trials based on their work have been halted. In the Times this week, Gina Kolata says that this and the cases of the tests OvaSure and OvaCheck that looked for traces of ovarian cancer in blood samples not working as expected indicate that applying large-scale gene studies to diagnose and treat cancer is not up to snuff. Kolata writes:

The [Duke] episode is a stark illustration of serious problems in a field in which the medical community has placed great hope: using patterns from large groups of genes or other molecules to improve the detection and treatment of cancer. Companies have been formed and products have been introduced that claim to use genetics in this way, but assertions have turned out to be unfounded. While researchers agree there is great promise in this science, it has yet to yield many reliable methods for diagnosing cancer or identifying the best treatment.
The Scan

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