Anything we can do Nature does better

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  • :FIBS- March 1978 71

    learn not only the history of the hormones of the gastro-intestinal system but all the latest about them right to the isolation and identification of them and their var- ious hormone-binding receptors.

    Feldberg provides the most dramatic review of 'science' as he recounts the saga of the stages of proof that acetylcholine is a transmitter, liberally interwoven with his own personal experiences. The long delay after the first demonstrations before physiologists would accept chemical transmission would have been impossible if there were simple criteria of scientific proof. But acceptance depends upon com- plicated sociological and personal factors. Physiologists such as Eccles were obsessed with the fashionable electrical approach and resisted 'pharmacological interfer- ence' even from such distinguished scientists as Loewi and Dale. Feldberg tells the personal story, but neither he nor others in the book put much emphasis on the influence of general ideas on research. A curious point too is that the index (which is good) has no entry for 'statistics', though Hodgkin refers to the importance of simplicity in the 'style' of research, as of mathematics. Several auth- ors make mention of dramatic critical experiments.

    Of course many of the essayists have much to say about technique, especially Huxley in a magnificent survey which in- cludes microscopy as much as muscle. Rushton too shows how techniques both electrical and biochemical have carried forward our knowledge of vision. His essay has unique Rushtonian insights on every page and all young biologists should read it.

    Hodgkin's description of the sequence of discovery that led to the famous equa- tions gives the best blow by blow account of the set. Electrical phenomena were in- volved from the start and the problem has been rather to move away from them. Unfortunately he did not have time to follow the later developments with tracers.

    McCance had the hardest task, his theme being perinatal physiology, which really includes all the rest. His is therefore the widest ranging article, going from Claude Bernard and homeostasis to the pheromones of bees. He has hard things to say about the restrictions that current 'ethical' codes impose upon research.

    The whole set of essays reminds one how many types of physiologists and bio- chemists are involved in the ingenious experiments that provide the basis for suc- cessful medical care.

    J. Z. YOUNG

    J, Z. Young F.R.S. is Emeritus Professor of Anatomy at the University of London. London. U.K.

    Anything we can do Nature does better Biosynthet ic Products for Cancer Chemothe rapy by George R. Pettit, published b.v Plenum Press, New York, 1977. $23.40 (12.29) (xii + 215 pages)

    Although the author is renowned for his work in natural product chemistry he has also been closely associated for many years with the National Cancer Institute drug development programme. As a result this work is not just an account of the physico- chemical properties of natural products derived from plants and animals, but their biology is discussed as well as their relevance to cancer chemotherapy as a whole. The introductory chapter is in fact a brave attempt to explain the many facets of modern cancer research and while necessarily superficial it is up to date and provides a good background to the further chapters which describe anticancer pro- ducts obtained from fungi, higher plants, marine invertebrates and higher animals.

    Searching for natural products with antitumor properties has been undoubt- edly successful, since commonly used anti- cancer agents include vincristine, adria- mycin, bleomycin and mitomycin all of them isolated as part of cancer chemother- apy programmes. Awaiting clinical trial are equally interesting agents such as maytansine.

    Each chapter describes a great variety of chemical structures ranging from com- plex polypeptides to low molecular weight materials of proven activity against trans- planted animal tumors or cancer cells in vitro. Of particular interest is that Nature has been producing, presumably for thou- sands of years, most of the variety of anti- cancer agents that the synthetic chemist has discovered over the past twenty years such as nitrogen mustards, quinones, anti- metabolites, bisepoxides, ethyleneimines and nitroso compounds. In fact the book is an ideal source of ideas for the chemist seeking a new research programme because as the author points out, many of the great successes in clinical chemother- apy have been the result of chemical modi- fication of a natural product. A most recent example concerns the podophyllo- toxins where suitably modified derivatives are giving results of the greatest interest in the treatment of teratoma.

    Successive chapters of the book deal with terpenoids, steroids, lignans and alka- loids occurring in higher plants. This is fol- lowed by a detailed account of the many natural products with anticancer activity isolated from fungi. The book concludes

    with a description of a new field - the isola- tion of chemicals from marine invertebra- tes and other animals. Clearly there remain hundreds ofchemicals yet to be characteri- sed which may be of great potential value in cancer chemotherapy.

    While essentially a book for the special- ist in cancer chemotherapy and for the organic chemist with an interest in this area, it contains such a wealth of anecdotes (including the disturbing fact that 250000 Asian butterflieswere killed to obtain suffi- cient material to test one product against the Walker tumor) that it will make interesting reading for anyone who is in- terested in the great variety of living things and the diverse chemicals they produce.

    Volume 2 is to be published shortly and will be a tabular summary of all the naturally occurring antineoplastic and cytotoxic substances described in the chemical literature up to April 1976.


    T.A. Connors is Director of the MRC Toxicology Unit, Carshalton, Surrey. U.K.

    Toxicological methods Curren t Approaches in Toxicology edited by B. BallanO'ne, published by John Wright and Sons, Bristol, 1976. 8.50 ( 310 pages)

    The expectations aroused by the title are not realised and the reader of this col- lection of contributions will be disappoin- ted, despite the able and undoubtedly effective handling of material by the editor. Many of the chapters deal with methodologies only of use to the toxicolo- gical specialists concerned with the assessment of very specific aspects of the biological activity of chemicals. Only few address or critically discuss the newer methodologies now being proposed in all areas of conventional toxicological investi- gation. There is a conspicuous absence of any chapter dealing with the implications of genetic investigations for the evaluation of the global toxic potential of a com- pound. One cannot but agree wholehear- tedly with the sentiments expressed in the preface concerning the undesirable effects of legislative control on the practice of tox- icological investigation and the disastrous consequences of the unwarranted and overgenerous publicity accorded the pon- tifications of instant unqualified experts by the media. However. no convincing arguments or cogent reasons can be dis- cerned by me for the introduction of such incongruous terms as environmental or economic toxicology.


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