many a scientist, as the relevance of the receptor, enzyme or gene they have
spent several years characterising is lost on their friends and family, who
have never even heard of it let alone know what it does. Traditionally the
world of science has been quite insular, with academics mainly explaining their
research to other academics, so the automatic response is to give a brief
summary using the jargon to which researchers have become accustomed. All too often
the person asking the question is left none-the-wiser.
admit to having previously resorted to the kind of technical spiel that elicits
glazed expressions and shrugged shoulders, so I wanted to learn how to adapt
the way I explain research in order to make everyone care about scientific developments
in the way that I do.
|8 of the 10 shortlisted scientists: (from L to R) Aidan Maartens (3rd), Clare Finlay, Elizabeth McAdam (2nd), John Foster, Claire Sand, Christopher Waite, Helle Bogetofte, Elizabeth Kirkham (1st)|
explaining the process behind it. I was attracted to the paper I summarised, Combination of
MEK and SRC inhibition suppresses melanoma cell growth and invasion,
because it sought to address an all too familiar problem: the failure of
promising drugs in clinical trials. Drug discovery is exceptionally
complicated, involving years of preclinical research and many early-stage
failures to produce a single new drug ready for testing in clinical trials.
Given the complexity and variability of human physiology, many of these drugs
will then fail to produce the desired outcome, as happened in the case of the
drug investigated in this paper. This kind of result can cause some to lose
faith, believing that the time and money dedicated to the research has come to
nothing, however it is vital that the public understands that the results of a
clinical trial are not the only meaningful chapter in the drug discovery story.
process leads to valuable new discoveries along the way that increase scientific
understanding and inform future experiments, and the results described in the
paper I summarised are an example of this. Not only did they suggest a reason
why the anti-cancer drug tested may have failed to produce the expected
clinical outcome in trials, but also a potential way to restore its benefits by
coadministration with another anti-cancer drug. These important findings are
often lost to the public because they are published in jargon-heavy articles
and hidden away in specialist journals, often behind a pay-wall. If they were
reported in clearer language and in a publically accessible location, more
people would appreciate the value of research beyond clinical trials and would
be more likely to support future studies as a result.
back and think about explaining research in a more general way when you work in
a field that values succinctness, and indeed has whole societies dedicated to
ensuring everyone uses the same technical language and nomenclature. However I
would encourage every scientist to try to remember the words that inspired them
to love science when they were back at school, and I guarantee that although
the words were simpler, the concepts described were still so fantastical that
they made us want to learn more.