An essential guide to the building blocks of life
I didn’t like biology when I was a kid. I remember dissecting a flatworm in high school and thinking, “What is the significance of this in my life?” The answer, of course, is many, but at the time, I did not see the connection between the biology of the worm and the biology of the person. It was only after I started learning about global health that I began to understand and appreciate the subject.
If only I were able to read Cell song By Siddhartha Mukherjee In school, I probably fell in love with biology much earlier. Not only does he do a great job of explaining in clear, accessible language how The cells work however Why They are the foundation of all life.
Although he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Mukherjee is first and foremost an oncologist whose passion for the subject of cell biology shows on every page. “I like to look at cells the way a gardener likes to look at plants, not just the whole, but also the parts within the parts,” he wrote at the beginning of the book. The result was just as good as his previous two books: The emperor of all diseaseswhich is about cancer, and The genewhich you can probably guess what it’s about.
Cell song It begins by helping you understand the evolution of life. When life first appeared on our planet, it was in the form of single-celled organisms. (Vital question by Nick Lane is another great book on this topic.) Billions of years later, the human body is home to hundreds of highly specialized cells, all of which work in harmony with each other to help you grow and continue to function throughout adulthood. Mukherjee does a great job of explaining how every dysfunction—every disease or consequence of aging—ultimately leads to something going wrong in one of these cells.
Although nearly two centuries have passed since two German scientists first proposed cell theory — the idea that all living things are made of cells — our understanding of how to manipulate the building blocks of life to treat disease is still in its relative infancy. Mukherjee spends a lot of time exploring the history and current state of cell therapy, which involves taking your cells out, growing new ones, and then putting them back in.
The most successful and well-known type of cell therapy today involves stem cells. Unlike most cells in the human body, stem cells are a blank slate. Think of them as Possible, with the ability to become almost any cell in the body. When a fetus first forms in the uterus, it consists almost entirely of these empty flaps. By the time you are an adult, you will have much fewer of them, but the stem cells you do have play a key role in replacing damaged cells. As you grow older, they grow with you. Their DNA becomes damaged over time and becomes less effective, which means your tissues take longer to regenerate. (If you’ve reached the age where recovering from injury takes much longer than it did before, your aging stem cells deserve some of the blame.)
Scientists have long been excited about the therapeutic potential of stem cells. The hope is that one day, we will be able to use stem cells to restore your cells to a more youthful, healthier state. I remain optimistic that this will eventually be the case, but I think the initial excitement was a bit overly optimistic. For example, researchers had great visions of repairing broken spines with neural stem cells that would regrow the spinal cord. This has not yet been achieved, and so far, there is only one successful form of stem cell therapy: hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, which includes blood cells.
The history of stem cell transplantation is amazing, inspiring and heartbreaking. Mukherjee devotes an entire chapter to this topic. In 1963, a team from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — known here in Seattle as Fred Hutch — knew that the most effective way to treat leukemia was to destroy the cancer cells with chemotherapy. But there was a problem: the operation destroyed his immune system.
If left untreated, leukemia is usually fatal. So, they came up with a bold solution. Doctors dose the patient with chemotherapy and then give them stem cells from a donor to rebuild the entire immune system from scratch. When this procedure was first performed, it was very risky, and the first patients died. Mukherjee interviewed some of the nurses who worked in the leukemia ward at Fred Hutch. Their stories of watching their patients – many of them children – struggle to recover after surgery are difficult to read.
Slowly but surely, over time, the process itself and the ongoing survival rate improved. Today, hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is a common treatment for leukemia and other cancers such as multiple myeloma. Research is still ongoing on whether it can be used to treat deadly diseases such as HIV and sickle cell disease.
The journey to effective cell therapies has been long and bumpy, but I am optimistic that our new understanding of cells will soon lead to breakthrough discoveries. As Mukherjee explains in his book, we are only beginning to understand how cells interact with each other. “We can name cells, and even cell systems, but we haven’t learned yet Songs For cell biology,” he writes. We don’t yet know how cells work together to form the cohesive melody that fuels the human body. Once we learn those songs — as he elegantly put it — I believe we will unveil transformative new treatments that will change the way we think about medicine.
If I could go back in time and tell my teenage self how important biology was in his life, I would say this: We’re all going to get sick at some point. We will all have loved ones who get sick. To understand what’s happening in those moments — and to feel optimistic that things will get better — you need basic knowledge about the basic elements of life. Mukherjee realizes that “to locate the heart of normal physiology, or the heart of disease, one must first look at the cells.” The world of medicine is moving very quickly, and Cell song It will help you appreciate how far we have come to achieve each breakthrough.
(Tags for translation)Bill Gates