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New Metaphors (& Gene Therapy) Will Beat Cancer

In the last 50 years, cancer has proven to be more resilient than we first thought, but inexpensive genome sequencing could allow us to create individualized cancer treatments.

What’s the Latest Development?

Steve Jobs paid $60,000 to have his tumor genetically sequenced. Today, a machine can do it for $1,000. This kind of dramatic advance, which has made sequencing more widely available, has shown us that individual genetic therapies can beat certain kinds of cancer. Sequencing identifies which specific genes have mutated, “and once you know what mutations someone has, you can probably figure out which signaling pathways are affected by those mutations, and target those,” says David Weinstock, a Harvard Medical School professor.

What’s the Big Idea?

Despite the force of medical science’s efforts, cancer mortality rates have not dropped in the last 50 years. Has our approach been wrong? David Agus, author of The End of Illness and the head of University of Southern California’s Westside Cancer Center, says we need a new metaphor for how we understand the disease. “Agus is a huge proponent of treating cancer less like a disease, and more like a weather system, which can be mapped and hopefully controlled. ‘I see it almost going towards things like climate-modeling,’ he says.”

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