Failing to bridge the gap between test tubes, animals, and human biology

Oct 21, 2011

Reasoning used in many highly cited cancer publications to support the relevance of animal and test tube experiments to human cancer is questionable, according to a study by researchers from Université Libre de Bruxelles published in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology on October 20th 2011.

Most experimental biomedical research is performed on animals or on cells living in test tubes due to the limits ethics guidelines place on experimental investigation on humans. Bridging the gap between these experiments and human biology is a major hurdle. A connection is often made using the prognostic value of —sets of genes whose activation is related to particular biological processes. Researchers first determine a cancer marker and then assess the ability of the marker to predict survival. The fact that the marker is prognostic is considered to be evidence that the particular biological process is an important driver of cancer.

The authors question this reasoning by highlighting that most whimsical molecular markers, for example genes associated with mice social behavior, are prognostic in human breast cancer. Moreover, they studied 47 markers published in leading scientific journals, representing various biological processes supposedly relevant to breast cancer. They confirmed their prognostic value, but found that 60% of them are not better than random markers devoid of any biological rationale. Thus, the prognostic ability of molecular markers in human breast cancer seems to convey little meaningful information relevant to the of breast cancer progression.

The study recognizes that some molecular markers are truly prognostic and act as a useful guide to breast cancer treatment, even though they may fail to support the causal role of specific biological mechanisms in human progression.

Explore further: New AAHA/AAFP pain management guidelines for dogs and cats now available

More information: Venet D, Dumont JE, Detours V (2011) Most Random Gene Expression Signatures Are Significantly Associated with Breast Cancer Outcome. PLoS Comput Biol 7(10): e1002240. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002240

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New prognostic marker for human breast cancer

Aug 24, 2009

Elevated levels of GLI1 (glioma-associated oncogene homolog 1) protein in human breast cancer are associated with unfavorable prognosis and progressive stages of disease. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Ca ...

Recommended for you

Protecting crops from radiation-contaminated soil

2 hours ago

Almost four years after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, farmland remains contaminated with higher-than-natural levels of radiocesium in some regions of Japan, with cesium-134 ...

Activating genes on demand

14 hours ago

When it comes to gene expression - the process by which our DNA provides the recipe used to direct the synthesis of proteins and other molecules that we need for development and survival - scientists have ...

Metabolic path to improved biofuel production

15 hours ago

Researchers with the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership that includes the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, have found a way ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.