THE END OF ILLNESS

Oncologist Agus (Medicine and Engineering/Univ. of Southern California) predicts that the application of advanced technology for modeling complex systems will transform 21st-century medicine.

The author writes that a remark Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann made to him in 2009—“Look at cancer as a system"—transformed the way he views his own specialty and the entire field of preventative medicine. It made him realize that “[r]ather than honoring the body as the exceedingly complex system that it is, we keep looking for the individual gene that has gone awry, or for the one ‘secret’ that can improve our health.” Agus writes that although the ability to sequence the entire human genome is a great step forward, it is insufficient for achieving a significant breakthrough. Even though it may start with a mutation, cancer “is a dynamic process that's happening…far from the confines of a static piece of DNA”—it involves the body's immune system, its ability to regulate cell growth, metabolism and more. Agus directs his university’s Center for Applied Molecular Medicine and is the co-founder of two personalized medicine companies, Applied Proteomics and Navigenics. His hope is that their research will contribute to developing better analytical tools for preventative medicine and for the treatment of cancers. These will address the functioning of the body as a whole, applying digital technology already used by physicists to provide virtual models of cancers and model the action of proteins that regulate cell communication in the body. He also hopes to develop tools that will provide information on the concentration of different proteins in a drop of blood taken from a patient, which may reveal the onset of disease. The author also includes some guiding principles and warnings about certain healthy practices that may not be so healthy. A refreshing change of pace in the medical field, but by venturing beyond his field of expertise to pontificate on a wide range of subjects, Agus makes his otherwise intriguing narrative difficult to follow.  

 

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1017-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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