978-0-465-07276-7 / 9780465072767

One Renegade Cell: How Cancer Begins (Science Masters Series)


Publisher:Basic Books



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About the book:

"Cancer wreaks havoc in almost every part of the human body"--Robert Weinberg's opening remark is a chilling reminder of the pervasiveness of an all-too- familiar disease. Cancer touches most families and if you have ever wondered why, despite so much time, effort and money, it has proved such a seemingly intractable problem, then read One Renegade Cell, Robert Weinberg's masterful explanation. As Director of the Oncology Research Laboratory at the Whitehead Institute and Professor of Biology at M.I.T. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Weinberg has been at the forefront of cancer research for well over a decade.

Unlike most diseases, cancerous tumours are not foreign invaders but "take on the appearance of alien life forms, invaders that enter the body through stealth and begin their programs of destruction from within." But as Weinberg shows these are deceptive appearances. And since he is foremost a scientist, he finds the truth "subtle and endlessly interesting" and manages to convey this fascination for something that most of us dread--cancer. Much of the present increase in cancer is due to increased longevity because "given enough time, cancer will strike every human body".

By telling the story of the historical discovery of cancer, Weinberg is able to introduce gradually the intricacies and complications of the genes and proteins involved (oncogenes, tumour suppressor genes etc) for the general reader. He characterises cancer cells as renegade because unlike normal body cells, they "disregard the needs of the community of cells", they are "selfish and unsociable", only interested in "their own proliferative advantage." By comparison, normal cells hold down cell numbers by "inducing them to commit suicide" (apoptosis).

The understanding of cancer has been developed enormously over the last few decades by Weinberg and the worldwide community of researchers. As Weinberg eloquently shows, cancer research and its related disciplines "have moved from substantial ignorance to deep insight."

The book is published as one of a series of Science Masters, of which a dozen have been published. They are designed to help the popularisation of science and are written by established and well-known scientists. The authors, such as Richard Dawkins (River out of Eden), Richard Leakey (The Origin of Humankind) and Lynn Margulis (The Symbiotic Planet) are also known for their ability to communicate science to a general readership. --Douglas Palmer

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