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Biomedical Reviews

On the Nature of Scientific Discovery and Progress - Lessons From a Career in Cancer Research

Denys Wheatley


While there is a tendency for career scientists to focus throughout most of their careers on a quite narrow range of research topics, my experience over a period of more than 50 years has been broad, from carcinogenesis to diffusion theory. There have been times when intense work has been done on particular subjects, for example, in exploring the structure and function of primary cilia, now implicated in 40-50 medical disorders. Such experiences constantly inform one how best to approach difficult and often fundamental issues regarding the nature of life, and also how it becomes distorted in the development of cancer. The quest to know the basic difference between normal and malignant cells continues. In addressing these problems we also learn how little we know about such matters, and about the Universe, life and ourselves. I relate, in outline, many of the experiences I have had since they have taught me lessons about how to go about scientific and medical research and how to maintain an enthusiasm for the work. My aim here is to relate from a personal (highly subjective) viewpoint the issues that should help the reader to appreciate what is required to advance knowledge, and how to benefit from the little advice that I can offer regarding their future endeavours. Biomed Rev 2017; 28:111-119.

Keywords: Eureka moment, scientific career, research experience, carcinogenesis, primary cilia, cell metabolism

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Denys Wheatley
United Kingdom

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