I began reading Robert Weinberg's book, "The Biology of Cancer", second edition, a few days ago. It was an illuminating experience. It's a formidable book of over 900 pages that summarizes much of the enormous amount of material that was known about the molecular biology of cancer as of four years ago. But instead of being a dry accounting of the facts, it reads almost like a mystery novel. In many chapters, Weinberg feeds us the data and experimental facts that were known at a given time, and then presents alternatives explanations from which to choose. Which one turned out to be right? And why? I really like this approach. It got me involved. In addition, Weinberg regularly intersperses questions throughout, many of which remain unanswered by the scientific community. To my mind, pointing out what the scientific community doesn't know is just as important as describing what is known. As a former research scientist, I started thinking about experiments designed to address some of these issues.
Weinberg writes beautifully. He also takes the time to explain appropriate techniques and concepts that other authors skip over. And the book isn't as long as the page numbers suggest. It is filled with numerous tables, illustrations and photos. All in all, it is one of the best textbooks in molecular biology that I've ever encountered. Of course, it isn't for everyone. While there's an introductory chapter that attempts to cover the basics of genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology, beginners without a reasonable foundation in these fields will find the remainder of the book tough going. And even for people with a good understanding of these matters, many of the subjects covered are extraordinarily complex. Weinberg makes a valiant effort to cope, but as he writes in the introduction to chapter six: "The present chapter will perhaps be the most challenging of all chapters in this book. The difficulty comes from the sheer complexity of signal transduction biochemistry, a field that is afflicted with many facts and blessed with only a small number of unifying principles. So absorb this material in pieces, the whole is far too much for one reading." Nevertheless, if you have the time and some background, I highly recommend "The Biology of Cancer". It's the definitive book on the subject.
In the remainder of this post, I've set out my agenda for subsequent entries in this blog. My aim will be to more or less follow the order of chapters in Weinberg's book culminating with his chapter 15 on immunology and immunotherapy. From there, I hope to discuss more recent ways the immune system has been used to fight cancer. Here's what I hope to cover (however, I reserve the right to add or delete topics at my discretion):