Synaesthesia Magazine Science & Numbers - Page 44

published in Nature, says that 'all cancers are caused by somatic mutations; however, understanding of the biological processes generating these mutations is limited.' (A somatic mutation is an alteration of the DNA in a cell, it can happen in any cell apart from the germ cells - sperm and egg - and it may or may not end up leading to cancer).

As part of my research, I read Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee's fascinating Pulitzer Prize winning work, The Emperor of All Maladies. It's a biography of cancer. That may not sound gripping, but believe me, it is. As Mukherkjee traces humanity's relationship with cancer, he also explains how it happens, and more importantly, what science is doing to try and combat it. The Human Genome Project, a mammoth international effort to sequence the entire genetic blueprint of our species, found there are between 20,000 and 25,000 genes, and once they were all mapped, the door was open for biomedical science to start researching targeted therapies to treat mutations in specific genes. It's possibly one of the greatest explorations humanity has ever been on. Forget space, there are as many nerve cells in your wonderful brain as there are stars in the galaxy.

Science is a weapon

The Human Genome Project allowed scientists around the world to start work sequencing the genes of the top twenty cancers. Like a darker version of the charts without a Radio 1 slot reporting its weekly findings, the Cancer Genome Atlas has been slowly but surely compiling data to enable scientists to really truly understand cancer at last. There is a very real possibility that in our life time we will see the end of the current methods of chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer and the introduction of medicines that only target the cancerous cells. In case you don't know (I didn't until I went and got cancer for Christmas) chemotherapy works by killing all the fast reproducing cells in your body; hair, mouth, eye and stomach cells, and hopefully also the cancer cells as they mutate quickly. It's equivalent to poisoning yourself to within an inch of your life and it's been the best form of attack since the early part of the 20th Century. The work being done globally on the Cancer Genome Atlas will allow scientists not only to understand the causes of various cancers in a way they never have before, but it will also provide the basis for treatments that don't destroy our entire bodies in an effort to kill a few rogue cells.

In April, Nature published a ground breaking research study into breast cancer, the METABRIC study, that had mapped the molecules of tumours from nearly 2,000 women. Painstaking scientific research revealed that there are ten distinct types of breast cancer, each with its own molecular blueprint. Scientists had previously classified breast cancer into stages and types. Stage 1 is early and has a good outlook, stage 4 means the cancer

Forget space, there are as many nerve cells in your wonderful brain as there are stars in the galaxy