Medical discovery or happenstance?
Some researchers look for remedies in all the wrong places and strike pay dirt. Consider the arsenic story, as related by the Higuchi Biosciences Center and the Drug Information Center at Kansas University:
Arsenic, mercury and antimony are heavy metals and powerful poisons. Surprisingly enough, arsenic is now part of medicine's cancer-fighting armament, while mercury and antimony are also being studied for anti-cancer properties.
How did arsenic which some people still think of as rat poison become a cancer-fighter? When Chinese clinicians in the 1970s started using arsenic-based medicines to treat leukemia patients, intrigued Western scientists began to study the approach too.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of arsenic trioxide, which contains low doses of arsenic, for patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia. This leukemia is resistant to standard chemotherapy.
The arsenic trioxide doesn't kill cancer cells. Instead, it helps immature bone marrow cells become adult cells. Otherwise, patients with this rare leukemia can't make adult marrow cells.
In a sense, the "discovery" of arsenic trioxide is no discovery at all. Arsenic-containing compounds have been used as medicines for 2,000 years.
Trans fat danger
A recent study from the Netherlands demonstrated that trans fats found in most commercial fried foods and baked goods are not merely as dangerous as the much-maligned saturated fats found in fatty meats and dairy products. It suggests that trans fats are far worse.
The study fed controlled diets to two groups of men for four weeks; one group's menu was high in saturated fat, the other high in trans. The researchers then measured the flexibility of the subjects' arteries and veins.
The vascular function of those in the trans group was reduced by 30 percent compared with the other group. And the trans group's HDL the "good" cholesterol was 20 percent lower.