cover image Racing to the Beginning of the Road: The Search for the Origin of Cancer

Racing to the Beginning of the Road: The Search for the Origin of Cancer

Weinberg, Robert A. Weinberg. Harmony, $27.5 (270pp) ISBN 978-0-517-59118-5

The realization that viruses cause certain types of cancer, resulting from research conducted from the mid-1970s to the mid-'80s, is the focus of oncologist Weinberg's complex, absorbing tale. It picks up momentum with the 1976 discovery by Nobel Prize-winning San Francisco virologists Mike Bishop and Harold Varmus that the normal human cell contains a proto-oncogene, a gene that under certain conditions can be converted into a potent cancer-causing dynamo, or oncogene. Weinberg, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology biology professor, is a central character in his own narrative. His pioneering work at MIT, and that of rival research teams, led to the insight that the human genome carries several dozen proto-oncogenes, and that mutant oncogenes, damaged by viruses, chemical carcinogens, dietary input or other processes, can trigger cancer. Beginning in 1986, scientists isolated tumor-suppressor genes, which counteract the renegade cell growth caused by oncogenes, and it is now believed that damage to both halves of the cell's ""mind"" conspires to create cancer. Weinberg surveys research avenues that may help predict cancer's occurrence and the efficacy of chemotherapy. (June)