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FRESH SCIENCE for Clinicians
News about basic science of interest and relevance for cancer clinicians
Friday, March 4, 2011
Duke: Pressing for Improvements in the System

I have to give kudos to Keith Baggerly, PhD, and Kevin Coombes, PhD. Not only are they the biostatisticians at MD Anderson Cancer Center who initially uncovered problems with Anil Potti’s data, but they continue to work for solutions in the system so that such problems won’t happen again.


In an editorial published online March 1 in Clinical Chemistry (subscription required), they argue, once again, that investigators should be required to make the raw data and computer code used to develop ‘omic signatures freely available.


Although the events at Duke are an extreme case, simple errors are not, according to Drs. Baggerly and Coombes. And even simple errors can lead to big problems in a genomic signature. Having the code and raw data available won’t make those problems disappear, but they will make it easier for researchers to understand what has happened if and when they try to reproduce the original results.


In my graduate laboratory, we used to (affectionately) call my advisor’s administrative assistant a “bull dog” because of her tenacity and ability to get things done. Drs. Baggerly and Coombes are showing a similar determination and I think the community will be better off for it.


Dr. Baggerly is scheduled to speak at the second meeting of the Institute of Medicine committee, which is charged with reviewing ‘omics-based tests, later this month.


More retractions in the works?

I asked Doug Stokke, Associate Vice President of Duke Medicine News & Communications, if we are likely to see more retractions. His response was short, but too the point -- and good news for the community: “A team of researchers is continuing to carefully evaluate other related publications.”

About the Author

Rabiya S. Tuma, PhD
RABIYA S. TUMA, PHD, a Contributing Writer for Oncology Times, is an award winning journalist and a regular contributor to The Economist, and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including CR Magazine, Yoga + Joyful Living, O The Oprah Magazine, HHMI Bulletin, and the New York Times. Prior to launching her writing career, Rabiya earned her doctorate at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and worked at a biotechnology firm in Eugene, Oregon. And though she traded a lab bench for a computer, she remains fascinated with the work that takes basic science into the clinic.

Her OT blog was recognized this year by the American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (ASHPE) with a bronze award in the category of Best Blog.