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Scientific Discovery and Challenges for an Editor
Analytical Chemistry  (IF6.986),  Pub Date : 2011-06-14, DOI: 10.1021/ac201413w
Murray, Royce

On May 30, 2011, a person significant in analytical chemistry passed away—Rosalyn S. Yalow (New York Times, page A21, June 2, 2011). Yalow was the co-inventor, in the 1950s with her colleague Solomon A. Berson at the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital, of the experiment known as radioimmunoassay (RIA). In experiments on insulin metabolism, Berson and Yalow observed a slower disappearance of administered 131I-labeled insulin from the plasma of patients who had previously been administered insulin (for therapeutic reasons), relative to those never treated with insulin. Their subsequent hypothesis that antibodies developed in the former patients as a result of insulin treatment—an idea new to the field of immunology at that time—was the spur for seeking an analytical method sensitive enough to detect those antibodies. The successful detection—and the invention of RIA—were based on separations by paper and starch block electrophoresis and radiochemical detection of antibody-bound 131I-insulin. The researchers also showed that a competitive displacement procedure gave a quantitative measure of insulin concentration. In the subsequent decade, an increasing volume of publications using RIA for a growing diversity of analytes ensued. Dr. Yalow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977. Her colleague Berson died in 1972; he would otherwise undoubtedly have shared the prize. The invention of RIA and a number of its applications are described in Dr. Yalow’s Nobel Lecture. She also observes that Berson’s and her manuscript demonstrating the presence of insulin-binding antibodies in insulin-treated patients was declined by Science and on its first submission, by the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The latter’s decline letter (by Editor Stanley E. Bradley) was included in the Nobel Lecture and is thereby immortalized. The work was subsequently published in JCI but only after a negotiated omission of “insulin antibody” from the title. RIA today has many later-invented competitor immunoassay strategies that are not reliant on radioisotopes and their accompanying baggage. This Editorial pays tribute to Drs. Berson and Yalow’s work and its impact on analytical chemistry. Nearly every current issue of Analytical Chemistry contains at least one paper exploiting highly specific antibody–antigen interactions as part of the measurement accomplishment. This Editorial is also to make an observation about the publication process. I take special note of the phrase “dogmatic conclusions which are not warranted by the data” in Editor Bradley’s letter. How many times have my Editor colleagues and I seen this kind of reviewer language in reviews of submitted manuscripts! How many times have we accepted such reviewer statements as fatal and pulled the reject lever (usually!). It is a vital issue; the basis for scientific advancement relies in fact on the researcher “making conclusions which are warranted by the data”. If they do not, then a quality journal should not agree to publication. Editors want reviewers to think on this essential level in assessing suitability for publication! How then do Editors avoid errors in dealing with manuscripts that are contrary to current thinking yet may be highly significant? I believe that there is no substitute for the Editor being an extremely competent scholar in his or her own right and having a sense of the essential tenants of thinking in the analytical chemistry field. There is no substitute for seeking the same qualities in the reviewers that the Editor chooses and relies upon. It is also necessary to preserve a capacity for scientific excitement on the Editor’s desk—to have a thrill at seeing a manuscript that exudes original thinking and presents really new experiments and to spend some extra time considering it. I have had some memorable such moments. My fellow Editors’ and my goal is to gather the most impactful new measurement science into the pages (electronic though they may now be) of Analytical Chemistry. We are happy to be challenged with pioneering papers announcing discoveries as significant as that of the RIA. This article has not yet been cited by other publications.