An Evening With Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee
Portland, Maine. On Wednesday, May 11th we were fortunate to welcome Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee to the stage of the Abromson Center at the University of Southern Maine for a fascinating lecture covering his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer."
In the course of the evening Dr. Mukherjee covered the history of cancer, including a native Maine boy, Einar Gustafson (later nicknamed "Jimmy"), who would go on to become the inspiration for The Jimmy Fund at the Dana-Farber Institute.
In his lecture, Dr. Mukherjee traced cancer from it's first known mention in ancient Egyptian scrolls, through the middle ages and the Renaissance (when cancer was thought to be caused by an "imbalance in black bile"), and into the modern age when the advent of microscopes, microbiology and finally DNA sequencing revealed the true nature of cancer: mutation in the body that causes either "abnormal acceleration" in cell growth, or damage to the "the breaks" preventing normal growth (such as a wound healing) from stopping.
"Cancer is a distorted mirror of the self," said Dr. Mukherjee, commenting that, although some cancers share common traits, each person's cancer is based on a mutation of their own unique DNA and will therefore respond differently to treatment.
Dr. Mukherjee concluded the evening with a glimpse into his current work at Columbia University, where researchers are using the power of DNA sequencing to search for shared genetic signatures that can lead to targeted drug therapies.
On May 17 Dr. Mukherjee released his latest book "The Gene: An Intimate History" and was featured this week on NPR's radio program "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross.