As the title suggests, scientists have reached only the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the end of cancer is on...

THE END OF THE BEGINNING

CANCER, IMMUNITY, AND THE FUTURE OF A CURE

A cancer researcher chronicles the history of the disease and the prospects in the search for a cure.

A cure for cancer has been just around the corner for nearly a century but is drawing near, according to this richly detailed, expert description of the history of cancer, its treatment, and research that is now producing quantum-leap breakthrough therapy. Kinch (Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity, 2018), oncology researcher and professor at Washington University, begins before 1900 with the brilliant but mostly obscure researchers who gradually revealed the nature of cancer. Investigations of bacteria, a 19th-century obsession, were a dead end, but studies after 1900 found that tiny, nearly invisible particles, later revealed as viruses, were one cause. Knowledge of immunity also grew, but few associated this with cancer until after World War II, when scientists discovered that antibodies and white blood cells normally destroy tissues that become malignant but sometimes fail. Since the discovery of monoclonal antibodies and cell-based immunity in the 1970s and ’80s, pharmaceutical companies have been creating treatments that program the patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells alone. This is a vast improvement over traditional chemotherapy, which poisons normal cells almost as badly as malignant ones. There have also been miracle cures in which massive tumors melt away, although they remain a minority. More commonly, the cancer shrinks for a time and then resumes growing. The best of today’s cutting-edge therapies fail half the time, and serious toxicities are also turning up. Finally, these “biologicals” consist of complex molecules, hundreds of times larger than the old ones. Requiring enormous time and labor, they are wildly expensive—approaching $1 million per course.

As the title suggests, scientists have reached only the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the end of cancer is on the horizon, and Kinch’s intensely researched, definitely not dumbed down, and lucid account makes this superbly clear.

Pub Date: April 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64313-025-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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