Cancer Initiation: The danger of misrepresentation of scientific studies is demonstrated by "The Scientist" article on vitamin deficiency

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The danger of misrepresentation of scientific studies is demonstrated by "The Scientist" article on vitamin deficiency

 The translation and interpretation of scientific research for educational use is fundamental to our education system, and in fact researchers often seek to have their research disseminated beyond the scientific community. None the less, care must be taken by those who attempt to translate research  to insure that no unintentional misrepresentation is made. My feeling is that a severe, yet unintentional misrepresentation has been made in a recent article by The Scientist.
  In the field of science education, scientific terminology is a required foundation. Likewise, in medicine and related health science field, medical terminology must be mastered and used correctly. Most often, when used correctly, there is no misunderstanding when using correct scientific terminology. In the case of this article, there seems to be a major problem involving terminology.
   The immune system is divided into the innate division and the adaptive division. When we study the acquired immunity that we receive from environmental exposure, as well a immunization from vaccines, we are speaking of the adaptive immune system.
  The title chosen by The Scientist was as follows:

Vitamin Deficit Can Boost Innate Immunity

By enlarging the text of the title, versus the subtitle and the article text, it seems to imply to readers without specific immunology backgrounds, that vitamin deficits may be beneficial. In the context of the title, the word innate does not seem to imply one specific subset of the immune system, which in this case is probably trying to compensate for a deficiency in another, likely more important part of the immune system. None the less, the article text quickly notes that no major reversal of nutritional theory is necessary.

 Vitamin A deficiency is associated with several health problems including night blindness and increased asthma risk. And as with other nutritional deficiencies, it is also known to compromise adaptive immunity mediated by the specialized T cells of the immune system. So it came as a surprise when researchers found that vitamin A deficiency could also activate the immune system and help protect mice against worm infections.[1] ( bold face mine )
Although the text of the article is largely correct, the word innate in the title seems intended to misrepresent the overall findings of the study. The "social context" of the word innate is that of unsupplemented by antibiotics and medication.
  The medical interpretation of this particular type of study is also a matter of debate. While mice are valid model systems for many types of studies, particularly cell cycle or cancer studies, the same is not necessarily true in the field of immunology.  Although the most basic constructs of the mouse immune system are similar, there are enough differences between the species such that immunological comparisons between murine ( mouse ) studies and humans are not immediately definitive.
  The defense of an organism against foreign threats is an active process that requires cell division ( mitosis ) and extensive translation ( generation of new proteins ). These processes are dependent not only on vitamin A, but all vitamins.
   In addition to the complex job of manufacturing and selecting new antibodies to arm the bodies defenses against foreign threats, the immune system must be constantly on guard for rogue "self" cells. When a cell looses control of its cell cycle, it begins to signal to the immune system that it needs help to extinguish a potential neoplasm. (cancer) .
   The process of cell division is a complicated process in which not only all of the DNA needs to be correctly copied, all of the epigenetic markers such as promoter methylation patterns ( CpG islands ) need to be correctly.  If a gene such as an oncogene ( gene which causes cancer ) needs to be suppressed in a particular tissue, it is imperative that the gene not only be copied correctly, but that it is suppressed by CpG island methylation of its promoter.  Accordingly, epigenetics is the direction that cancer research has now turned, and its importance to cancer causation research cannot be understated.
  Non the less, even under the best conditions, it seems to be a relatively common for the process of creating a high fidelity duplication to fail, and a mutant cell to arise. In this case, it often becomes the job of the immune system to assist in extinguishing and disposing of the offending cell.

  In conclusion, in science words matter. Wherever possible it is best to try to use the most correct scientific terminology, particularly if a particular term ( such as innate ) may have a different meaning in common usage.

[1]  Laasya Samhita    Vitamin Deficit Can Boost Innate Immunity
Researchers show that vitamin A deficiency can help protect mice against parasitic worm infections.
    The Scientist Jan. 23, 2014  [ Article ]

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