University of Cambridge > > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Controversy, mistrust, even witchcraft: the failure of cancer therapy with neutrons

Controversy, mistrust, even witchcraft: the failure of cancer therapy with neutrons

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Shortly following World War II, the Medical Research Council funded a cyclotron for the Hammersmith Hospital in London, which by the late 1960s was committed primarily to neutron therapy. The leader of the project, Mary Catterall, reported outstanding clinical outcomes, which greatly influenced worldwide support for neutron machines. Nevertheless, within a few years, William Duncan who headed a second MRC cyclotron in Edinburgh reported no improvement in tumour control and severe complications. The ensuing controversy between Duncan and Catterall spread into the broader public community when Catterall attempted to fund a new cyclotron in London with the support of the office of Prime Minister Thatcher. The controversy which was marked by highly personal attacks against Catterall so badly discredited neutron therapy that within a few years programs were closed down on both sides of the Atlantic. The neutron story is more than a tale of operatic proportions, for it reveals the crucial role trust plays in medical research and how in spite of formal clinical trials the reception of a new therapy can be damaged by the perceived character of an investigator.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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