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Cancer research has reached a major turning point, and no one is better qualified to explain the past two deacades' dramatic leaps forward in understanding this disease than world-renowned molecular biologist Robert Weinberg, director of the Oncology Research Laboratory at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In One Renegade Cell, Weinberg presents a state-of-the-art account of how cancer begins and how, one day, it will be cured.
The last 20 years have brought a revolution in cancer research that will profoundly change diagnosis and treatment of the disease, writes Weinberg in this comprehensive but rigorous introduction to the subject. Weinberg, founder of the Whitehead Institute for Cancer Research and a biology professor at MIT, traces the development of previous theories of cancer, and explains that scientists are now certain that cancer is caused when genes are damaged through a succession of mutations. These can result from damage to a cell's DNA inflicted by mutagens (which can be of foreign origin, such as tobacco smoke, or of internal origin); from normal mistakes made when DNA is copied during cell growth; or from defects in the body's DNA repair machinery. Weinberg discusses the roles of chemical carcinogens, retroviruses and heredity in developing cancer, and explains the body's intricate defenses against tumor growth. Though he argues that cancer will never be fully eradicated because so many mutations occur during long lifetimes ("Given enough time, cancer will strike every human body"), Weinberg is optimistic that increasingly sophisticated understanding of cellular functions will yield more effective treatments for those cancers that cannot be prevented. Though some readers might find the technical sections of the book difficult, it readily conveys the challenge and excitement of scientific discovery. Two illustrations.