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'Cancer's Biographer' Comes to Campus May 1

Mukherjee will expound on ancient origins and today’s battle to cure the disease

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April 11, 2012 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., the oncologist who ambitiously tackled the 4,000-year recorded history of cancer in his first book, “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” will deliver a free public lecture at Northwestern University May 1.

In his book, which received a 2011 Pulitzer Prize, Mukherjee traces the social and scientific responses to cancer in “an attempt to enter the mind of this immortal illness, to understand its personality, to demystify its behavior.”

During his talk Mukherjee will expound on his central character, from its ancient origins -- including a description of the disease on a crumbling Egyptian papyrus -- to today’s recent discoveries and the ongoing battle to control, cure and conquer cancer.

The talk, “The Changing Landscape of Cancer,” will start at 6 p.m. at the Ryan Family Auditorium in the Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, on the Evanston campus. Prior to the talk, a public reception will be held in the lobby starting at 5 p.m.

A Q-and-A session will follow Mukherjee’s talk.

“What we understand now, thanks to advances in cell biology,” Mukherjee writes, “is that cancer is normalcy of a sort. …Cancer is a flaw in our growth, but this flaw is deeply entrenched in ourselves. We can rid ourselves of cancer, then, only as much as we can rid ourselves of the processes in our physiology that depend on growth -- aging, regeneration, healing and reproduction.”

Mukherjee is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center. In addition to the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, “The Emperor of All Maladies” (Scribner, 2010) was named by The New York Times as one of the “10 Best Books of 2010.”

The Northwestern Physical Sciences-Oncology Center (PS-OC) is the sponsor of the Mukherjee lecture. The center, one of 12 established nationwide by the National Cancer Institute in 2009, is a joint effort between the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. As Mukherjee’s book illustrates, many of the most important breakthroughs in cancer research have arisen from discoveries outside of the field of cancer research.

Brought together through the PS-OC, physical scientists and cancer biologists from across the University are focused on genes and their role in cancer. The unique perspective of physical scientists broadens the lens with which the PS-OC addresses most fundamental questions regarding the regulation of gene expression in normal health and development and in cancer. A better understanding of these mechanisms could lead to better diagnostics and therapeutics as well as open up new directions for research.

For more information on the Mukherjee talk, go online.

Topics: Campus Life