IF YOU happen to believe that change or happenings take place only to those who are more religious than scientific, then you need to read more into the lives of scientists and inventors.

Mark Twain, the father of American literature, believed that the greatest of all inventors is “accident.” Wordsmiths call it “serendipity.” Still, look at anything around you—the bouncy silly putty, the sticky superglue, the transparent cellophane, the antibiotic penicillin—you name it, they call came from happy accidents. Even Viagra came out from an accident while scientists studied sildenafil citrate for hypertension.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

That’s what happened to a group of six medical researchers coming from three medical institutions in the United States—Dartmouth Medical School (Hanover, New Hampshire), University of Missouri-Columbia, and Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island). Kristin Wallace of Dartmouth Med led the team.

The team set out to determine if selenium can prevent bladder cancer, having been observed in lowering risk of many cancer growths such as prostate, lung and colorectal cancers.

Their report in the Cancer Prevention Research (January 2009 issue) indicated that its presence in the human body had no effect in decreasing bladder cancer incidence overall, as studied.

But, here’s the serendipitous “but.” They found that selenium had preventive impact on low to moderate smokers while it had none among nonsmokers and an increased risk among heavy smokers. They still don’t know why, but had the theory on the “how.”

Another finding indicates that selenium has a potential for destroying a certain sub-type of bladder cancer, but the exact mechanism remains unknown.

Selenium also showed better performance against bladder cancer among women patients, but not men. But the number of women volunteers involved in the study demands that another study with larger female population be done in the future.

Experienced scientists and investigators believe that serendipity requires an uncommon openness of the mind.

Louis Pasteur observed: “In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.” Let your minds be prepared for accidents, my friends.