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The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic Levelby Jessica Wapner
Synopses & Reviews
One of Publishers Weekly's Top Ten Spring 2013 Science Books
Philadelphia, 1959: A scientist scrutinizing a single human cell under a microscope detects a missing piece of DNA. That scientist, David Hungerford, had no way of knowing that he had stumbled upon the starting point of modern cancer research — the Philadelphia chromosome. This book charts not only that landmark discovery, but also — for the first time, all in one place — the full sequence of scientific and medical discoveries that brought about the first-ever successful treatment of a lethal cancer at the genetic level.
The significance of this mutant chromosome would take more than three decades to unravel; in 1990, it was recognized as the sole cause of a deadly blood cancer, chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML. This dramatic discovery launched a race involving doctors and researchers around the world, who recognized that in principle it might be possible to target CML at its genetic source.
Science journalist Jessica Wapner brings extensive original reporting to this book, including interviews with more than thirty-five people with a direct role in this story. Wapner reconstructs more than forty years of crucial breakthroughs, clearly explains the science behind them, and pays tribute to the dozens of researchers, doctors, and patients whose curiosity and determination restored the promise of a future to the more than 70,000 people worldwide who are diagnosed with CML each year. Chief among them is researcher and oncologist Dr. Brian Druker, whose dedication to his patients fueled his quest to do everything within his power to save them.
The Philadelphia Chromosome helps us to fully understand and appreciate just how pathbreaking, hard-won, and consequential are the achievements it recounts — and to understand the principles behind much of today's most important cancer research, as doctors and scientists race to uncover and treat the genetic roots of a wide range of cancers.
"In this meticulously detailed chronicle, science writer Wapner recaps the remarkable development of Gleevec, a cutting-edge drug capable of beating the typically fatal cancer of white blood cells known as chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)....Her gracefully written history skillfully combines both the science and humanity of this fascinating search for a cure for CML." Publishers Weekly
"Wapner weaves together the basic and applied science with the stories of the dedicated researchers, the broader supporting superstructure of modern medicine and the process of bringing pharmaceuticals to market....An absorbing, complex medical detective story." Kirkus Reviews
"The story of the Philadelphia chromosome is truly the story of modern cancer biology — from the very earliest description of a chromosomal abnormality in cancer cells to the development of a targeted medicine against a formerly lethal type of leukemia. Jessica Wapner stitches the whole story together with tenacity, diligence (and humor). This is a wonderful, readable, and highly informative book." Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies
"Jessica Wapner shows us in The Philadelphia Chromosome how the past and the future combine to dramatically change the course of a disease. This beautifully written book is a blueprint for broader healthcare change. A pivotal book." David B. Agus, MD, Professor of Medicine and Engineering, University of Southern California, and author of The End of Illness
"Jessica Wapner has done two kinds of hard work gracefully: the hard work of understanding cancer genetics and the hard work of rendering that subject into human narrative, lucid explanation, and metaphor. The Philadelphia Chromosome is not just an urgently useful book. It's also an elegant one, put together like a Swiss watch." David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic
"The Philadelphia Chromosome clearly explains how a half-century's worth of research transformed a viciously lethal form of cancer into a chronic, treatable condition. Jessica Wapner's meticulously researched book is both a real-life medical thriller and an engaging narrative about the history of modern cancer research." Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy
Almost daily, headlines announce newly discovered links between cancers and their genetic causes. The Philadelphia Chromosome relates the backstory — never before told at book length — behind many of those headlines. This epic journey unfolds over fifty years, encompassing the first glimpse of a genetic mutation, dubbed the Philadelphia chromosome, in 1959; its role in causing chronic myeloid leukemia (CML); and the development of Gleevec, a groundbreaking drug that made this once-fatal cancer treatable with a single daily pill.
Science journalist Jessica Wapner brings this story vividly to life — reconstructing the crucial breakthroughs, explaining the science behind them, and giving due to the dozens of researchers, doctors, and patients whose curiosity and determination restored the promise of a future to the more than 50,000 people worldwide who are diagnosed with CML each year. Chief among them is researcher and oncologist Dr. Brian Druker, whose dedication to his patients fueled his quest to do everything within his power to save them.
A turning point in our long and difficult history with cancer, The Philadelphia Chromosome is an inspiring story of what is possible when people, working alone and in concert, are driven to make sense of the unknown and improve the lives of others.
About the Author
Jessica Wapner is a freelance science writer focused mainly on health care and medicine. Her work has appeared in publications including Scientific American, Slate, The New York Times, The Atlantic.com, New York, Science, Nature Medicine, the Ecologist, the Scientist, and Psychology Today. Her writing on cancer research and treatment has also appeared in the patient-focused magazines CR and Cure, and she has been a frequent contributor to the industry publication Oncology Business Review. She lives with her family in Beacon, New York.
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