A well-written examination of the complex world of scientific research, focusing on a specific gene in the human body.

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P53

THE GENE THAT CRACKED THE CANCER CODE

The scientific history of the gene that regulates cancer in humans.

"Because most molecules are smaller than the wavelength of light," writes Armstrong (A Matter of Life and Death: Conversations with Pathologists, 2008, etc.), most of what transpires in molecular biology is unseen. However, with the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953, under the right conditions, scientists suddenly had something visible to work with, enabling them to decipher the components of human cells and how they interact with one another. Armstrong details the extensive research that has gone into one gene in particular, p53, which regulates the body's ability to fend off cancer. First concretely identified in 1979, the scientific interest in p53 waxed and waned as researchers around the world, working in isolated labs, analyzed this gene in a variety of scenarios. Without excessive jargon or detail, the author leads readers through years of experiments conducted by exemplary scientists in their respective fields. Armstrong chronicles the numerous disappointments and eureka moments when the research yielded unexpected and significant discoveries on how and why p53 plays such a huge role in regulating the production of cancerous tumors. As scientists continue to work with and manipulate this gene, they learn more about how it functions, which will help them create courses for cancer treatment that are highly personalized to an individual's genetic background. This would ease many of the side effects currently suffered by cancer patients, such as hair loss and nausea. Armstrong's narrative is informative and entertaining for those with a medical or scientific background or readers who have an interest in scientific breakthroughs, but it may be less appealing for more general readers.

A well-written examination of the complex world of scientific research, focusing on a specific gene in the human body.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-1472910516

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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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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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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