Buyer Beware: A cautionary tale about chemical probes
Today, an important Perspective was published in Cancer Cell (Choose and use your chemical probe wisely to explore cancer biology). The Perspective highlights both the importance of chemical probes in biomedical research and the unfortunate pollution of scientific literature that occurs when these compounds are misused. This article is authored by Julian Blagg, a member of the Portal Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), and Paul Workman, a member of the Portal Board of Directors and SAB.
To our knowledge, the piece is the first on this topic to appear outside of a chemical biology or pharmacology journal. Importantly, the article is tailored to a non-specialist audience, and thus, like the Portal, it is intended to be accessible to scientists who are not experts in small-molecule chemistry or pharmacology. Although similar articles have been published, they were written for experts and published in journals who are read by experts. We are hopeful, this piece will reach beyond those experts and help raise awareness of some important challenges scientists face in the selection and application of small-molecule tools in their research. We hope it also helps them realize that a failure to consider these challenges upfront – before they begin an experiment with small molecules – means they will be wasting precious resources and contributing to our crisis in research reproducibility.
If you are a scientist interested in using chemical probes in your work, we recommend that you read the article and share it with your colleagues who have similar interests. Reading the article will not render you an expert in small molecules, but it will alert you to some of the challenges you will face in using them. Hopefully, this knowledge will inspire you to enlist an expert collaborator or to at least seek expert advice before you start your experiments. If it does not, please read the article again, and again if necessary, until you understand the risks you are taking by not seeking advice.