Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner

If you liked the TV show House, you'll love THE PHILADELPHIA CHROMOSOME by Jessica Wapner, which explores the science of genetics as it attempts to understand the complex mechanisms by which cancer cells are produced from normal cells, most specifically from the case of a breakthrough in research in 1990 when a chromosome originally found in 1959 to be missing a piece of DNA is discovered to be the cause of chronic myeloid leukemia (which affects 70,000 new people per year.) By engaging the reader or listener in the timeline of this medical mystery, Wapner generates drama for a subject that could affect everyone listening---the search for a cure to one of the most perplexing and deadly illnesses. Cancer has many faces, and she shows how the key to virtually conquering one specific cancer was accomplished, by research focusing in on one target of a kinase, and blocking its action on an amino acid. Will such concentrated research lead to lower death rates among other cancers? As a sidebar, let me here note that it won't if we continue to cut back on such research in favor of the billions wasted in defense (golf course entitlements for Pentagon generals, and admittedly unneeded billion dollar weapons systems to fight enemies who don't fight that way anymore) or welfare fraud (full disability for some who, as in one instance, was photographed water skiing behind his boat.) Back to the book, this story is relevant to every human being, as your likelihood to get cancer at age 65 is 100 times greater than at age 25. (My sister was just diagnosed with lung cancer, and she never smoked in her life.) Narrated by Heather Henderson, whose voice is both listenable and clearly articulated, the audiobook is insightful in that it shows why genetics is a key to understanding cancer, and why blanket chemotherapy to fight cancer is not as effective as seeking out the causes of specific cancers and fighting them on their own level (just as real war on the battlefield benefits from intelligence and specialized ops rather than the shotgun "shock and awe" approach with its massive side effects.) Toward the end of the book the ins and outs of drug trials and the approval process figures into it as well, something I explored in my suspense novel involving genetic research. 

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