Frank W. Martin
December 19, 1977 12:00 PM

The solution is obvious. Dimes must go. Two Denver doctors have found they cause cancer in rats.

With tongue in cheek, Dr. George Moore and his research associate, Dr. William Palmer, published a letter of protest in the August issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Incensed by the Food and Drug Administration’s “string of inane pronouncements” of cancer danger in everyday items—cranberries, food dyes, plastic bottles and saccharin—the two cancer specialists described an unusual experiment they had been conducting since March 28, 1976.

On that day they inserted sterilized dimes in the peritoneal cavities of 35 rats. Within 14 months they discovered that nine rats had developed sarcomas (tumors) and nine more had distinct abdominal masses. Malignancies eventually occurred in 63 percent of the rats.

Reaction to the experiment and the letter ranged from indignation to laughter. Dr. Jeremy Stone, director of the Federation of American Scientists, accused the doctors of deceiving the public, discrediting cancer research and causing unnecessary suffering to laboratory animals. “Politics ought not masquerade as science,” declared Stone. A National Cancer Institute scientist said the experiment constituted a misuse of cancer funds and was, in a word, “disgraceful.”

But Dr. William R. Barclay, editor of the AMA Journal, defends Moore and Palmer. “I ran the letter because it was a parody,” he says. “This is the only way to deal with pomposity—the FDA often behaves like a pompous ass.”

The 57-year-old Moore, who is acting director of surgery at Denver General, insists the experiment was legitimate. Although he has used rats in cancer research hundreds of times, he has long questioned their validity in relation to man. He thinks the experiment with the dimes casts further doubt. Whatever the cancer rate among the rats, there is little chance that humans with similar foreign objects in their bodies would get the disease. Indeed, shell fragments, steel plates or plastic prostheses can be tolerated for an entire lifetime with minimal adverse effects.

Moore and Palmer refuse to let their critics bother them because they have also received a lot of “favorable scientific mail.” Even the FDA officially calls the experiment an “amusing episode.” It cost $3.50 for dimes, $100 for rats and $450 for rat food—a total of $553.50. As to the charge that the rats were sacrificed unnecessarily, the 45-year-old Palmer points out that the tumors were removed from the afflicted rats and are being used in research.

No one is better qualified to poke gentle fun at the deadly serious business of cancer research than Moore. He came to Denver by way of Buffalo, where he was director and chief surgeon of Roswell Park, a state-owned cancer institute, for 19 years. A tireless worker, he rises at 5:30 and is on the go until 11. He is involved in surgery, research and administration, a rarity among doctors.

Moore wishes the FDA would concern itself more with commonly accepted cancer agents, like tobacco, rather than with possibles, like saccharin. To drive that point home, Moore and Palmer belabored the obvious in their snippy letter. “Indeed,” they concluded, “there is excellent probability that folded paper money, government paychecks, bills and credit cards will provoke sarcomas, and they should be banned immediately.”

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