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Fact or fiction? Discussion about innovative approaches to cancer treatment and prevention
A team led by Professor Chakrabarty from Illinois has produced a new book on the theme of innovative approaches towards cancer , and the prose in this volume is easier to read than in Bugging Cancer, where the text went into greater depth about the science behind the technology . This new fictional account stands comfortably on its own, and it is a moving tale of journeys taken by three women living under the shadow of this disease. While the narrative is largely concerned with making difficult decisions, the message is ultimately one of hope, as becomes clear in the closing chapters where the three protagonists meet for the first time at a global conference on cancer. I will not discuss the journeys taken by Selena, Marzena and Kamola because the authors do this job well, and there is no need for me to retell their stories. These are more than case studies, and the emotions felt by the women seem real, with the thread holding everything together having as much to do with human relationships as with novel approaches to cancer treatment and prevention.
The message behind Three Daughters: Three Journeys  is concerned present and future options for women who finds themselves with a genetic predisposition to particular types of cancer (such as breast and ovarian). What is missing though is even fictional discussion about ethical controversies surrounding gene therapy and genetic modification, having in mind that without experimental and controversial technologies, these therapies could not exist. While this perceived gap has the benefit of allowing different strands of the story to flow smoothly, this comes at a cost in that the novel approaches to the treatment and prevention of cancer lack a certain realism. Of course, this is fiction, and the therapies themselves are at an experimental stage of their evolution, but had the authors chosen to add a further chapter as a postscript to discuss the underpinning science and ethics, this might well have helped.
One is further reminded that this is fiction when Kamola travels seamlessly from Kolkata to Wellington, a route that in my experience necessitates changing planes at least once. While such trivial detail makes one smile and think "I wish", will readers think the same about Neezalin - the fictional name for a drug using bacterial proteins derived from one form of life to treat illnesses in another, namely cancer in humans? The possibility exists in the not too distant future for a drug of this kind to come to market, but if and only if solutions can be found to legal and moral problems surrounding this technology. The idea of eating something as commonplace as a raw tomato or popping a pill once a day, both of which are described in the book as a way of treating or preventing cancer, sounds fanciful, and it is not easy for the reader to make the necessary the leap of imagination. That said, this is a stimulating read, and Chakrabarty et al succeed in communicating a story about medical science, innovation and a disease that touches countless individuals and families around the world for the benefit of non-specialists and the wider public.
London, July 2017
1. A Chakrabarty, J Charles, I Mondal and R Chattopadhyay. Three daughters: Three journeys – quest for cancer cure. Pan Stanford Publishing, Singapore, 2017. ISBN (hardback) 9789814745901.
2. A Chakrabarty and the Chicago Onco-group. Bugging Cancer. Logos Press, Washington DC, 2014. (Review on Best Thinking, available at https://www.bestthinking.com/articles/science/social_sciences/philosophy/emerging-biotechnology-and-the-goal-of-making-cancer-a-preventable-illness-what-are-the-moral-boundaries-23)
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About the Author
Roger P Worthington
Medical educator and policy consultant based in London (UK). PhD from State University of New York at Buffalo (Philosophy). Adjunct faculty
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