The Nobel controversy | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 82 Issue 5 | p. 6 | Letters
Issue Date: February 2, 2004

LETTERS

Department: Letters

The Nobel controversy


Raymond Damadian bases a large part of his claim to the Nobel Prize on a short article in Science in 1971 that showed that tissue samples removed from some experimental cancers had nuclear magnetic resonance relaxation times longer than normal tissues (C&EN, Nov. 3, 2003, page 39).

In early September of 1971, I gathered the first of several pieces of data that suggested that this observation might not hold true in all cases. Experiments that I performed showed that the relaxation time of a slower growing, well-differentiated rat tumor was not substantially different from muscle taken from the same animal [Johns Hopkins Med. J., 131, 441 (1972)]. We also demonstrated that NMR relaxation times were correlated to water content of the tissues [J. Natl. Cancer Inst., 52, 599 (1974)], pointing out that elevated water content was a property not confined to cancer tissue.

Using the biopsy approach originally proposed, we published a large series of human samples that confirmed rather conclusively that T1 differences could not be used to classify excised human tissues into neoplastic and nonneoplastic categories [Cancer Res., 35, 1326 (1975)]. These observations, along with those of other investigators, differed substantially from those made by Damadian. I believe that our negative findings using the biopsy approach provided impetus to investigators such as Paul C. Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield to perfect a practical method for MR imaging [Cancer, 57, 1899 (1986)].

We fully expected that, in the tradition of good science, Damadian would engage us in a friendly discussion in an attempt to resolve the disagreement between our findings and his. Such a discussion never actually transpired (Hollis, Donald P. "Abusing Cancer Science: The Truth about NMR and Cancer." Strawberry Fields Press: 1987, page 9). Instead, our conflicting data were dismissed by Damadian and his supporters, who persisted, without justification, in claiming that MR was "one hundred percent effective" in distinguishing cancer from normal tissue (Kleinfield, Sonny. "A Machine Called Indomitable." Times Books, 1985).

Probably more than 100 scientists worked on the application of NMR to medicine in the 1970s. Many of these researchers, including Damadian, had excellent ideas and made noteworthy contributions to progress in the development of magnetic resonance imaging. The Nobel Prize, however, is awarded not for the idea but for actually accomplishing the feat. This was achieved by Lauterbur and Mansfield. The Nobel Committee made the correct decision in selecting them, and only them, for the highest honor a scientist can hope to achieve.

Leon A. Saryan
Greenfield, Wis.

While I sympathize with damadian over his exclusion from the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, I strongly disagree with his position that the Nobel "outfit" ought to be held "accountable to world opinion" for their selections of Nobel Prize recipients. It is well known that Alfred Nobel specified in his will the various institutions that would be charged with selecting recipients.

In the case of the physiology or medicine prize, that institution is the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The Nobel committees, consisting of three to five individuals assisted by other specialists, distribute invitations for nominations of candidates to the prize-awarding bodies, previous winners, and professors at various colleges. The prize-awarding bodies in each of the various fields then deliberate the opinions and recommendations, put forth by the Nobel committees, and select a winner. The award money comes from the interest on a private fund, into which Nobel directed his fortune be invested.

I do not know whether or not Damadian was nominated along with Lauterbur and Mansfield for his work on magnetic resonance imaging. Even if he was, the fund management, administration, and selection process was, presumably, carried out according to Nobel's wishes. It's as if Nobel himself was awarding the prizes--surely he would have the right to decide to whom to give his own money! Damadian's campaign to hold the Nobel Foundation accountable for their decisions regarding recipients is totally groundless. Indeed, the Nobel assembly is not, should not, and never will be accountable to other bodies!

John N. Lalena
Puyallup, Wash.

A career change


"Back to School" will open the door for a number of practicing chemists who may be considering a new career direction (C&EN, Nov. 24, 2003, page 47). These professionals will be welcomed into a professional commitment that suffers from too many individuals with weak content backgrounds.

These new entrants into teaching, however, will want to keep in mind that their past practice of inquiry methods does not automatically prepare them to teach in a way that offers students opportunities to learn to become proficient inquirers. Our research on this concern indicates that inquiring scientists have a compulsive tendency to want to tell students about the results of their earlier inquiries rather than to offer students ample opportunities to practice and develop inquiry skills.

H. Kornbau, in 1977, reported that there is a difference in the learning that results from the teacher asking questions and students asking them. Therefore, new teachers coming from the chemical industry will want to seek support from experienced teachers in how to catalyze students' questions. They may wish to be on the lookout for our forthcoming book, "Through New Eyes: Reenvisioning the Inquiry/Discovery Approach to Teaching Science and Related Language," which addresses this need.

Frank X. Sutman
Linwood N.J.

 

Lessons from history


Madeleine Jacobs' editorial "The More Things Change ..." (C&EN, Nov. 24, 2003, page 3) spawned a response: Yes, things are tough now, but ...

Frank Whitmore was dean of the School of Chemistry & Physics at Penn State (College). The Central Pennsylvania local chapter remarks about him that he had two courses for all chem school students--at the beginning and the end.

His course for the senior class of '36 started out by stating that things were dismal in the job market--and that was an understatement. Then he went on to say that any one of us who graduated could get a job if we worked at it hard enough--if we wrote enough application letters. The course was going to teach us how to write a letter of application, and the "exam" was to write one and take it to him personally for his critique on the spot.

My remembrance is quite clear of going in for my appointment, when one of my classmates, one of the top students, came out of the office, obviously greatly distressed because of the way his letter had been torn apart, bit by bit! My studies had been tough by my standards, and my grades were so-so; thus, my expectations were probably not great when taking my letter in, with nonetheless quite mixed feelings.

The class fared pretty well. Many of us wrote 100 or more letters--my total was close to 150. But Dean Whitmore was right.

An aside was that one of my friends at school--but not in the chem school--frequently regaled us with stories about the actions of a colleague of his father's who was dubbed "the Terrible Tempered Mr. Brown." Who was my boss's boss--you guessed it!

Bill Griffin
Chestertown, Md.

 

Pharmaceutical problems


With the escalating costs of prescription drugs, I was not at all surprised when I read your article on counterfeit drugs endangering the safety of our drug supplies (C&EN, Nov. 10, 2003, page 36). Where there are high prices, there is great potential for fraud.

I am a bit surprised, however, that not much was said about the root cause of these high prices: the huge costs of getting a drug to market and the short time left on a patent once a drug is approved. Our elected officials are busy with attempts at speeding up the introduction of generic drugs or legalizing the importation of drugs from Canada. They seem to be completely unaware that by shortening the time for introduction of generic drugs, they will force the industry to increase prices while a drug is still under patent. They also seem to be unaware that by the time they pass legislation legalizing the importation of drugs from Canada, suppliers in the U.S., in anticipation of this legislation, will already have limited the Canadian supplies. The increased demand and limited supplies will cause Canadian prices to skyrocket. Clearly, these efforts will not help our situation.

What we need are leaders to educate our policymakers and the general public about the realities of the drug development process. We need leadership to push for a long-term solution to the multiple problems caused by high drug prices.

I would suggest that we start by allowing inventors exclusive rights to sell their products for the full term of the patent, rather than starting the clock before a product is allowed to go to market. By extending the effective patent life, we would allow for the high costs of getting a drug to market to be spread out over more years to more individuals. This would provide a lower cost per dose; reduce the need for high-power, expensive advertising campaigns; and lower the risk for those investing in lifesaving R&D. Of course, along with the exclusive right to sell a product should come the responsibility to sell it at a fair and reasonable price.

We need nonpartisan leadership that can represent all sides of this issue. We need leadership with the expertise, resources, and interest in public welfare to take on a problem that is spinning out of control and threatens the quality of our health care. I believe that ACS is uniquely suited for just such a task. I hereby issue a challenge to this great organization to take a more active role in dealing with this problem at its root.

Charley Liberko <br > Mount Vernon, Iowa

The explosives industry has considered microspheres as a means of identifying and tracking explosives. I don't see why the same concept should not be applied to drugs. The microspheres are inert; colors and other properties can be used to identify many different drugs. If the primary ingredient is "tagged," that would carry through all secondary wholesalers, repackagers, et cetera, and ensure authenticity. The primary manufacturer would retain primary responsibility for its tagged material.

All the dialogue about package protection and paper pedigrees seems fruitless. And the industry's concern about cost-effectiveness? Let's be realistic: This is one of the most profitable industries in the world--in spite of all the "woe is me" by the industry. C&EN reports an average after taxes profit margin of 20% (Nov. 17, 2003, page 28).

Herb Skovronek
Morris Plains, N.J.

 

Falun Gong's persecution


In the article titled "Securing Human Rights" by William G. Schulz, the author mentioned that a Chinese chemist, Kong Fanfen, "was detained for peacefully promoting democratic change in China" (C&EN, Nov. 24, 2003, page 22). Actually, the reason Fanfen was jailed was that she practiced Falun Gong, a peaceful spiritual movement banned by the Chinese government in July 1999. She was arrested on July 25, 2000. Refusing to renounce Falun Gong, she was soon sent to a labor camp without trial. Graduate students Wang Bin and Mo Haitao, and Zhang Yong, a postdoctoral fellow in her institute, were jailed for the same reason. Bin is serving his prison term and will be released in January 2004.

In the past four years of the crackdown of Falun Gong in China, more than 800 people have been persecuted to death; more than 6,000 and at least 100,000 people were jailed or sent to labor camps without trial, respectively; a couple of thousand sane people were sent to mental hospitals. Among them were a lot of scientists like Kong. However, the facts about the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners have always been overlooked or simply ignored. I really hope all chemists can stand by them and help end the persecution.

Gang Lu
Evanston, Ill.

 
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