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Traces the history of the study of tumor viruses and its role in driving breakthroughs in cancer research.
Worldwide, approximately one-fifth of human cancers are caused by tumor viruses, with hepatitis B virus and HPV being the leading culprits. While the explosive growth in molecular biology in the late twentieth century is well known, the role that the study of tumor viruses has played in driving many of the greatest breakthroughs is not. Without the insights gained by studying tumor viruses, many significant theoretical advancements over the last four decades in cellular and molecular biology would not have been made. More practically, the study of tumor viruses has saved thousands, if not millions, of lives.
In Cancer Virus Hunters, Gregory J. Morgan traces the high points in the development of tumor virology, from Peyton Rous’s pioneering work on chicken tumors in 1909 to the successful development of an HPV vaccine for cervical cancer in 2006. Morgan offers a novel approach to understanding the interconnectedness of long series of biomedical breakthroughs, including those that led to seven Nobel prizes. Among other advances, Morgan describes and contextualizes the science that prompted the discoveries of reverse transcriptase, RNA splicing, the tumor suppressor p53, the vaccine for hepatitis B, and the HIV test. He also explores how “cancer virus hunters” have demonstrated the virtue of beginning with a simple system, even when investigating a complex disease like cancer.
Based on extensive archival research and over fifty interviews with experts, Cancer Virus Hunters is a tour de force summarizing a century of research to show how discoveries made with tumor viruses came to dominate the contemporary understanding of cancer. By showcasing the scientists themselves, the book makes for an unusually accessible journey through the history of science. It will be of interest to biomedical professionals—especially in oncology, hepatology, and infectious disease—in addition to historians of science and anyone interested in cancer research.