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Cancer Virus Hunters

A History of Tumor Virology

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 a 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.

About the Author

Gregory J. Morgan (HOBOKEN, NJ) is an associate professor specializing in the history and philosophy of science at Stevens Institute of Technology. He is the editor of Philosophy of Science Matters: The Philosophy of Peter Achinstein.

Endorsements

"The only extensive work of which I know that provides an intellectual history of the field of cancer virology, this book will appeal to scientists and historians of science."

- William Summers, Yale University, author of The Great Manchurian Plague, 1910–1911: Geopolitics of an Epidemic Disease

"Morgan describes how important the study of cancer-inducing viruses was to the development of molecular biology. It is a reversal of the story often told about how molecular biology opened our understanding of cancer. The book contains many insights into the interplay of basic science and disease-inspired investigations."

- David Baltimore, California Institute of Technology

"This magisterial book should be read by everyone who wants to cure cancer."

- James D. Watson, author of The Double Helix

"Perhaps no biomedical specialty has led to more Nobel Prizes than tumor virus research. Morgan has combed the archives and interviewed dozens of the field's leading figures, providing ample depth to satisfy technical readers while making the science accessible to the non-specialist. A lucid, exhaustively researched account of a vital chapter in the rise of modern science."

- Nathaniel Comfort, Johns Hopkins University

"Gregory Morgan's book is not only a definitive history of the search for cancer-causing viruses, but also a gripping tale about one of modern science's most consequential quests. Cancer Virus Hunters should be one of those rare cross-over books that appeals to scientists and scholars as well as to lay readers."

- John Horgan, Scientific American columnist, author of The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age

"Cancer Virus Hunters provides a detailed history of the study of viruses that cause cancer and how this has shaped our modern view of biology and medicine. Interweaving scientific discovery with an exploration of the scientists behind the work, Morgan provides an up-close view of how science is done and how advances in the study of multiple biological systems coalesce to conceptual breakthroughs."

- James M. Pipas, University of Pittsburgh, coeditor of DNA Tumor Viruses

"A gripping story about the pioneers who made the most salient discoveries about cancer-causing viruses, their significance for understanding cancer as a whole and the development of anti-cancer vaccines. Highly readable and meticulously researched, it will interest scientists and the curious alike."

- Robin Weiss, University College London

"The study of tumor viruses prompted many of molecular biology's breakthroughs after the cracking of the genetic code—and led to the first human cancer vaccines. Through vivid biographical sketches of the key virologists and lucid descriptions of their work, Gregory J. Morgan has written a remarkably comprehensive history of the field. A great read and valuable resource for historians and biologists alike."

- Angela N. H. Creager, Princeton University, author of Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9781421444024 : cancer-virus-hunters-morgan
Electronic book text
August 2, 2022
$50.00 USD
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Hardback
August 2, 2022
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