The inspiration for the review came from a lecture I gave at Wenzhou Medical University entitled “FGFs, morphogens, growth factors or hormones?”, which examined the evidence for FGFs performing these functions. One key part of the lecture related to the work of Ula Polanska, when she undertook her PhD in Liverpool with Tarja Kinnunen, on the functions of FGFs in C. elegans (published here and here). Ula discovered that the same FGF ligand and receptor performed both endocrine functions and morphogen/growth factor functions. During the planning of the lecture and after, I had a series of discussions with Chao Jiang, my friend and colleague who hosts me on my visits to Wenzhou. Chao and I bounce off each other in terms of generating ideas and new syntheses, and the result was the seed for the review. I wrote an outline on the flight back to Europe and then discussed the concept with my co-authors. As we gathered information and mined the literature, including the very substantial Chinese literature, I realised that there were two reviews. So we wrote this one, focussed on the non-cancer translational potential of FGFs. The other one will doubtless see the light of day in a few years!
One lesson from writing the review is that the Chinese scientific literature is very substantial, but the rest of the world doesn’t have a great deal of access to it. Even with help, we had trouble finding many articles – we only used about a fifth of the Chinese references we had identified. In many cases we were unable to secure the original papers, while in a few instances the papers were clinical reports of such brevity that they were not useful. The latter issue is being dealt with, as China upgrades its research enterprise. The former issue remains an obstacle. However, the increasing internationalisation of science, whereby labs and Departments have people who can read papers in all the major languages of science, coupled to the move to open access and better internet cataloguing of the literature is eroding this obstacle.
Another lesson is the pleasure of open review. This is so constructive. Two of the reviewers chose the open route and they really put their backs into the task. The result is a much improved text. The review history is available too.