What Does it Mean for Cancer Research When Results Can’t Be Reproduced?

Getting a successful outcome from a cancer-research study is just one step of a very long process. Key in that journey to providing assistance for cancer patients is replication — that the research can be conducted again, with the same results.

If replication fails, does that mean success is out of reach? That’s a question researchers are trying to answer.

The issue was recently tackled by the Center for Open Science. After seeing a trend of cancer research not being able to be replicated, COS undertook its own study. So far, researchers completed five of 50 replication attempts, and found three of the studies showed markedly different results from the originals.

Of those, two had already progressed to the point where scientists were testing the experiments on people, instead of lab animals, a multi-million-dollar undertaking.

So where did things go wrong? That’s still up for debate. According to analysis by NPR, there are a number of possible explanations:

  • Biological variations among lab animals involved
  • Laboratory techniques may be slightly different
  • The definition of “replication” isn’t clearly or universally defined

While there’s no firm answer yet on what could be causing the studies to lack agreement, what is clear is that more research is needed to ensure that studies aiming to provide assistance for cancer patients are making the most of researchers’ resources.

“I think it’s too early for us to know whether this approach is the right approach or the best approach for testing the reproducibility of cancer biology,” University of Texas researcher Sean Morrison told NPR about the replication study. “But it will be a data point, and it will start the conversation.”


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