The holy grail of biomedical research is a “miracle” cure for cancer. Not only would this discovery net the researcher a life changing amount of money and worldwide fame, but it would also extend the lives of the millions of patients who are diagnosed with cancer each year. In her article in Vox, Julia Belluz discusses the multitude of articles about new cancer treatments published with superlatives such as “miracle” or “game-changer” and how the majority of these treatments are not FDA approved. Additionally, many of these treatments do not even have human data to validate their praise.
My question is: Is it a good or bad thing for biomedical research for articles of this nature to be published so frequently with little concrete clinical evidence to back their claims?
Claiming that every cancer treatment that shows even the smallest potential for success is the next game changing, miracle drug could ultimately create public distrust of the scientific community. Over time, people will begin to question each article that they come across. They will wonder, after years of hearing of these treatments, why their loved ones are still dying of cancer. They will begin to think that the scientists behind these studies pulling the wool over their eyes in an effort to fill their own pockets with money. Ultimately, this could severely hamper the ability of the biomedical community to do research due to lack of public support and a subsequent decrease in funding.
On the other hand, if these articles on potential “miracle” drugs are not published, the public may lose interest in the research because they feel that no progress is being made. The lack of hype around cancer research if these articles were not published could also lead to public disinterest and an ultimate lack of funding for these studies that are making progress towards the goal of curing cancer but are not quite there.
What do we as scientist do to maintain interest in biomedical research without lying to general public?
We focus not on where the research is currently, but instead highlight where it has the potential to go. We generate hype by discussing hypothetical “miracle” cures. As long as the superlative descriptors are used with the caveat that the drugs they describe are still in development I feel that we can continue to drive public interest in biomedical research without making fraudulent claims.