Field of Science

Weird words of science 4

statins Anyone who reads the newspaper, listens to the news or watches TV will clearly associate the word statin with cholesterol, but in fact the source of the common name of this class of drugs comes from another biochemical pathway entirely. The suffix -statin was coined in 1973 in an article in Science by Brazeau: "We propose to name the peptide described here somatostatin, from somato(tropin), a pituitary factor affecting statural growth, and stat(in), from the Latin 'to halt, to arrest'." The cholesterol stopping statins were isolated around the same time (there are trends in scientific names, just as there are in baby names) and made use of the new suffix. A quarter century later in common use we've forgotten that there are other statins, such as somatostatin and nystatin, with no structural or theraputic relationship to the profitable cholesterol lowering agents.

For an intersesting take on trends in baby names, see Freakonomics, serialized here at Slate.

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