FYS-155 Cancer in Society: A War Against Immortality

Instructor: Adjunct Assistant Professor and Laboratory Instructor Robert Garrity
Department: Chemistry

Course Description:
This course will explore the historical evolution of society’s struggle to understand what cancer is and how to treat it. While normal cells have defined life spans, cancer cells overcome the normal cycle of death and replacement and, given the proper nutrients, proliferate forever. Thus the ongoing war against cancer is paradoxically, a war against immortality. The modern view of cancer evolved from nearly 4000 years of observation, discovery, debate, and modeling, with emphasis shifting over the centuries from humoral theory, to cell structure, to mutation theory, to aneuploid theory, and most recently, to immune evasion strategies. In 1971 President Richard Nixon enacted the National Cancer Act, declaring a “War on Cancer.” In some ways we are winning that war, as hundreds of cancer-causing genes and multiple cancer inducing mechanisms have been identified which has given rise to new promises for treatment. Moreover, certain risk behaviors are also in decline, the first anti-cancer vaccine has been developed, and novel immune modulating therapeutics are being explored. However, in other ways we are losing ground, as the outcome of too many cancers still remains grim and the incidence of others is alarmingly on the rise.