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November 30, 2005
Okadaic Acid Makes Vanity Fair
Reader Jeff G. pointed out this blog post, which quotes the letters column in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair. The magazine ran a profile of Paris Hilton, about whom the less said the better, and quoted her in-the-same-category sister, Nicky, to the effect that she was working so hard, running multimillion-dollar companies and all, and what were the people writing about her doing at her age (21) that was so important?
The magazine published a letter from one Steven Sabes of Minnesota, who said:
. . . I would like to repond to that. When I was 21, I was busy working toward my Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Minnesota. I was the first to synthesize the compound okadaic acid -- shown to be the leading cause of breast cancer.
Well, I'm glad to see some organic chemistry make it into the pages of a magazine as empty-headed as Vanity Fair usually is. Face it, those of you readers who are fellow chem-geeks - our jobs might as well be voodoo hoodoo as far as the VF demographic is concerned. And Sabes and his okadaic acid work appear to be real. He's a graduate of Craig Forsyth's group at UMN.
The problem is, someone at the magazine seems to have mangled his point. Okadaic acid isn't the "leading cause" of breast cancer - it's a marine natural product that few people have ever encountered, unless they've had some really, really bad shellfish. It's a phosphatase inhibitor, which puts it in an interesting class of activity that's been hard to approach through traditional med-chem, and it's been used for many in vitro and in vivo research studies in cancer and other fields.
So I appreciate Sabes taking a whack at the Hilton sisters, and letting people know that organic synthesis actually exists. I just wish that his meaning had stayed intact.
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