Approximately a year ago, the leading journal Science published an article about bexarotene as a potential Alzheimer’s drug. A significant breakthrough and an important starting point for further Alzheimer’s research. The research group of Bart De Strooper – Alzheimer’s researcher at VIB and KU Leuven – in collaboration with the group of Rudi D’Hooge – KU Leuven – and scientists at Janssen Pharmaceutica, Beerse, also tested this candidate drug in various Alzheimer’s animal test models. Their results were different, as were those of two American study groups. Therefore, they have recommended in a “technical comment” in Science that bexarotene should not be tested on patients.
Bart De Strooper (Department Director VIB/KU Leuven): “Science is a learning process and one learns by trial and error and by starting again and correcting mistakes. Therefore, it is logical that conclusions from scientific research – even in prestigious journals – need to be re-evaluated from time to time. If results cannot be reproduced, it is very important that this is mentioned so that other scientists can also determine the value of a publication (reproducible science is the only true science). This is the only way that we can learn from our mistakes and hopefully one day develop a drug.”
Jo Bury (Managing Director VIB): “VIB places great value on thorough checks and balances of scientific results. This is the most important condition for leading research that could benefit our society. It is good news that Science is also prepared to publish negative results.”
Scientific research, a process of ups and downs
Scientific findings do not simply fall into someone’s lap; they are the result of years of dogged research. The icing on the cake is a publication in a scientific journal, as this is the way that scientists announce their results to the world. Before a publication is accepted, a journal will submit the document to a panel of leading scientists in that field of research. The publication is only given the go-ahead following a positive evaluation by these experts.
Built-in control mechanisms
Is this an absolute guarantee? Unfortunately not. Fellow scientists try to reproduce results. They are usually successful, but sometimes similar experiments lead to different results. And this needs to be reported and examined in more detail. These built-in control mechanisms in the scientific process are therefore very important. It is a normal part of the scientific process. Scientific journals also sometimes offer scientists the opportunity to comment on certain publications after they have been published. The journal Science does this in the form of “technical comments”. This is often the source of more extensive research.
New insights sometimes invalidate existing theories
Scientists want to get to the bottom of phenomena, usually with a certain hypothesis in mind. Research leads to new knowledge and insights, which results in refinement of the existing theories. However, sometimes this results in a completely new theory and the rejection of an existing theory. The history of science is littered with examples of this: think of Copernicus who was the first to assert that the sun – and not the earth – is the centre of our solar system. The Flemish contribution to Science is an excellent example of the self-monitoring process in the scientific world.
“Technical comment on ApoE-Directed Therapeutics Rapidly Clear b-Amyloid and Reverse Deficits in AD Mouse Models”, Ina Tesseur et al., Science 2013
VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)