Does the Medium Change the Message?

A recent article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic describes how the basics of cancer research may have inadvertently altered results for decades.

Scientists use a growth medium to study human or animal cancer cells in the lab. This medium is most commonly Eagle’s minimal essential medium (EMEM), developed in 1959. EMEM offers cells only the basic nutrients needed for growth. But more recently, researchers have developed new mediums that include many more of the chemicals and nutrients found in blood. And researchers are finding that the medium selected for a study can impact the results.

In the article, MSK’s Dr. Natasha Pavlova says that while the new mediums would help scientists looking at how cancer cells consume nutrients, they are not exact substitutes for blood cells, tissues, and organs. The cancer cells used by researchers, often of a similar age to EMEM, may also impact results. It’s not yet known if they would respond to new mediums more or less like cancer cells behave in a body.