Scientists can’t agree on potential uses for the ‘holy grail’ cancer treatment

When the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda announced Friday that researchers there had discovered a new variant of the so-called tumor necrosis factor-alpha receptor (telomerase inhibitor), it seemed quite impressive. The so-called telomerase inhibitor halts a cancer’s ability to grow. The first human trial began last month, so it had been a noteworthy discovery for a long time, but apparently not for scientists around the world.

On Friday, the online journal Bioinformatics published a review of a wide array of papers from about 3,000 other scientists who have previously studied this disease. The New York Times characterized the opinion as “stern.” More cautious is the lead author of the review, the University of Pittsburgh.

Experts who first drew attention to the discovery have since been worried about exactly how it will be used. Various groups of scientists worried about potential misuse — potentially by drug companies to make their own inhibitors to rush to market. The chief worry is that the discovery would lead to a “promise of a treatment without the availability of suitable clinical trials for more efficiently sorting out efficacy from harm.”

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