Tuesday 6 September 2011

Summer reading

Summer reading this year included 'The Edge of Physics' by Anil Ananthaswamy. The book describes a series of key experiments currently taking place that probe the raw substance of the universe. The most well-known example is the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which is currently looking for evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson, but it is only one of a number of monumental studies in progress. We are at the point where scientists are probing for the evidence for the existence of multiple universes, for understanding at a deep level what space-time is made off, what dark matter and dark energy are.

It's amazing stuff for sure, but one thought kep coming back to me as I read through the book - why is it we know so little about cancer? Reading the cancer literature one is struck again and again by how ignorant we are about this vile disease. Even basic things - the role of antioxidants, the causes of chemo-resistance, the mechanisms of immune escape - seem to be beyond us. Where are the major theroretical breakthroughs in cancer? Where is the basic knowledge that will unlock new therapies? The more one reads of the cancer literature, the more one realises that we're groping in the dark.

Let's hope that more physicists and engineers start to look at cancer - perhaps some fresh approaches are what we need to make progress. Because major progress is what we desperately need in this area.

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