CURING CANCER

THE STORY OF THE MEN AND WOMEN UNLOCKING THE SECRETS OF OUR DEADLIEST ILLNESS

A Wall Street Journal science reporter's colorful, people-centered account of the fierce competition among scientists to find the genetic causes of cancer. Waldholz (coauthor, with Jerry Bishop, of Genome, 1990) focuses on Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, who developed the tumor-suppressor theory of cancer that has become the foundation of cancer research today; Mary-Claire King, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, who proved the existence of a breast cancer gene on chromosome 17 in 1990, although she couldn't pinpoint its precise location; Francis Collins, a researcher at the University of Michigan, who joined forces with King in the hunt for the elusive gene; and Mark Skolnick, a Utah geneticist who found BRCA1, the breast cancer gene, in 1994. Through interviews with these and other scientists who worked with them or competed against them, Waldholz shows the pressure of the race to be first. He reveals these denizens of the labs to be fierce competitors, often skilled at manipulating people, keeping secrets, and working the press. His secondary story, one fraught with quite different emotions, concerns the women in ``Family 15,'' the raw material used by a group of scientists tracking down the breast cancer gene. Through them Waldholz explores the ethical problems created when scientists are able to tell a woman that she has the gene but physicians are unable to either prevent or cure the cancer. Despite his optimistic title, Waldholz makes clear that curing cancer remains ``a lengthy and risky enterprise.'' He also touches on the problems and possible conflict-of-interest issues posed by the burgeoning number of biotechnology companies that are exploiting university research. Vivid portrayals of the principal players combined with clear descriptions of the science involved.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-81125-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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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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