Here's a good overall view of what serendipity is, and some examples of ithttps://owlcation.com/stem/serendipity-the-role-of-chance-in-making-scientific-discoveries
From this article:"The word “serendipity” was first used by Sir Horace Walpole in 1754. Walpole (1717–1797) was an English writer and a historian. He was impressed by a story that he had read called “The Three Princes of Serendip”. Serendip is an old name for the country known today as Sri Lanka. The story described how three traveling princes repeatedly made discoveries about things that they had not planned to explore or that surprised them. Walpole created the word “serendipity” to refer to accidental discoveries."
The article gives several examples of how serendipity has happened in past historical instances (the story about
the candy bar melting in the guy's pocket, leading to the development of the microwave oven, for example, is amusing), showing that such events can and do happen anytime and anywhere.
I would also add as an example this famous case (you have all probably heard of it) of Louis Pasteur and the discovery of modern vaccination.
From a website, a classic example of serendipity at work:"... Pasteur instructed his assistant, Charles Chamberland, to experimentally inject chickens with the cholera bacterium so that he, Pasteur, might observe the course of the disease. Then, just before a summer holiday break, Pasteur directed Chamberland to inject the chickens with a fresh culture of the bacteria. Chamberland may have been preoccupied with thoughts of the upcoming holiday, because he forgot to inject the chickens before leaving. When he returned a month later, he carried out Pasteur’s instructions, except that he injected the chickens with the now aged bacteria. What happened next was most important. The chickens that were inoculated with the aged culture developed only a very mild form of the disease ... Pasteur correctly surmised that the aging process (actually, oxidation by exposure to air) had attenuated the bacteria."
This chance discovery, caused by the negligence of a lab assistant, led to the development of modern vaccination! All because a lab assistant didn't do his job!
As noted in the article above, "All of them (serendipitous discoveries) seem to have been made due to a procedural error." Which means, ironically, that for serendipitous discoveries to be made, research can't be too tightly controlled. Because if it is, then the opportunity for serendipity to take place gets greatly diminished.
So should lab procedures therefore actually be allowed to get a little sloppy, with the thought that maybe that might result in a wonderfully serendipitous discovery happening at some point?
Maybe so. As the above article notes: "A serendipitous discovery in science is often accidental, as its name implies. Some scientists try to design their experiments in a way that increases the chance of serendipity, though."
And to the original thread title question: will a cancer cure happen someday because of a serendipitous lab accident, or a "wrong" experimental step that in fact would turn out to be a very "right" one, one that starts down the path to a cure?
It's impossible to predict how that might happen. That is because by its very nature serendipity is entirely unpredictable.
But perhaps it really will happen someday in a lab somewhere, that a careless lab assistant spills something on to something, with amazing results, or a new, inexperienced assistant misunderstands and misapplies some instruction during an experiment, with a totally unexpected but wonderful outcome, resulting in a glorious discovery, rather than just a mess to be cleaned up later and discarded.
In essence, one day a Nobel Price in Medicine in recognition of the discovery of the cure for cancer is awarded because somebody goofed? Now wouldn't that be something!
Anyone have any ideas as to how serendipity actually might come to happen in a cancer experiment, or in some kind of cancer setting, where serendipity might happen in a most unexpected but benevolent way? Let's hear it, if you do!
Ah, yes. Sarah N. Dipity. A great girl friend to have! Such great ideas would seem to come to mind whenever she is around!