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The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Genetic Mystery, a Lethal Cancer, and the Improbable Invention of a Lifesaving Treatment Reprint Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 112 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1615191970
ISBN-10: 1615191976
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is an uncommon but fatal cancer. More than 95 percent of patients afflicted with this malignancy have a chromosomal abnormality known as the Philadelphia chromosome. This genetic mutation is characterized by a swap of genetic matter between two different chromosomes so that a single chromosome (number 22) has a piece missing. The mutated chromosome codes for an enzyme—tyrosine kinase—that is hyperactive and ramps up production of white blood cells that leads to leukemia. A chemical compound was identified that selectively targets the kinase protein. Gleevec was FDA approved in 2001, and the results have been quite impressive. It outperformed the existing first-line treatment for CML. It is safer than a bone marrow transplant. Gleevec is unique among cancer drugs because it is taken orally (instead of administered intravenously) at home (instead of the hospital or clinic) with very manageable side effects. Science writer Wapner has pieced together a detailed account of a spectacular scientific success story and a turning point in the treatment of cancer. --Tony Miksanek --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


One of The Wall Street Journal's 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2013:
“There were numerous strong books about cancer in 2013, but this account of the decades of work to find a drug to fight chronic myelogenous leukemia was the strongest. Jessica Wapner translates the complexities of medical science for the general reader and demonstrates the necessity of collaboration between two traditional enemies, academia and Big Pharma.”

“Among a small cluster of very good recent books on cancer.”
The New York Times

“This reporting takes in a huge swath of science and research, a landscape that changes dramatically over the course of her story. Wapner’s achievement is to help the reader understand why each development is huge in its time and place—starting with Hungerford peering through his camera at the chromosomes and following scientists through the laboratory stories, through drug development and animal testing, to the triumphant patient treatment when the drug becomes almost routine—a scientific miracle absorbed into the daily lives of a group of patients no longer united by a fatal diagnosis.”
The Washington Post

“In [The Philadelphia Chromosome], Jessica Wapner chronicles the ensuing decades of laborious scientific inquiry and industrial ingenuity that led to the discovery of Gleevec, the first drug designed to attack cancer at the genetic level. Its success in beating CML into remission and making the errant chromosome disappear has helped to revolutionize cancer research, unleashing a hunt for the genetic basis of other cancers and opening the door to comparable targeted treatments.”
The Wall Street Journal

“[A] riveting suspense story . . . Ten years ago, CML was a death sentence. Today, with Gleevec, most of its sufferers lead full and normal lives. Wapner tells the complex story of how this came to be with clarity, eloquence, and balanced insight.”
American Scholar

“An excellent book for those who want to learn more about how medical discoveries are made and those interested in recent medical history, as well as those whose lives are affected by CML.”
Library Journal

“A crucial link between genetics and cancer emerged in a US lab in 1959, as researcher David Hungerford peered down a microscope at an abnormally small chromosome. In 1990, this ‘Philadelphia chromosome’ was found to cause the swiftly fatal chronic myeloid leukaemia. As science writer Jessica Wapner reveals in this taut, elegant study, a cascade of breakthroughs then led to success with targeted drug Gleevec, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor—and hopes for the cancer-busting potential of rational drug design in general.”

“[T]he way Wapner repeatedly adds up preceding steps to build to the scientific breakthrough is masterful, making for compulsive, surprisingly emotional reading."
The Scientist

“A thriller with a dash of history.”—Science

“In this meticulously detailed chronicle, science writer Wapner recaps the remarkable development of Gleevec, a cutting-edge drug capable of beating the typically fatal cancer of white blood cells known as chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). . . .Her gracefully written history skillfully combines both the science and humanity of this fascinating search for a cure for CML.”
Publishers Weekly

“Wapner weaves together the basic and applied science with the stories of the dedicated researchers, the broader supporting superstructure of modern medicine and the process of bringing pharmaceuticals to market. . . . An absorbing, complex medical detective story.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Expounding the well-known link between genetics and cancer, this scientific history recounts the initial discovery of a gene mutation that eventually led to enormous breakthroughs in the fight against leukemia.”
The Barnes & Noble Review

“Jessica Wapner reveals how the discovery of a single mutated chromosome led to a trailblazing treatment for leukemia and a variety of other cancers.”
Shelf Awareness

“Splendidly written in the tradition of the legendary medical book, Microbe Hunters, this book proves that medical science is as cool as those forensic shows like CSI.”
Philadelphia Weekly

“I would enthusiastically recommend [this book] to the lay public, people living with cancer and cancer researchers. . . .[T]he story of the Philadelphia chromosome—the scientific creativity and the dedication it celebrates and the medical scientific triumph it represents—is one that deserves to be cherished for eternity.”
Nature Medicine

“[The Philadelphia Chromosome] opens our eyes to a future in which remedies will kill tumors at their root.”
—Philadelphia Inquirer

“[C]hronicles the decades-long quest to develop a targeted, or ‘rational,’ treatment that would attack cancer on the genetic level.”
New York Post

“I enjoyed the book immensely for its enthusiasm, compassion, and depth, while remaining accessible to those not versed in science. It should become a classic.”
Helen Lawce, Journal of the Association of Genetic Technologists

“The story of the Philadelphia chromosome is truly the story of modern cancer biology—from the very earliest description of a chromosomal abnormality in cancer cells to the development of a targeted medicine against a formerly lethal type of leukemia. Jessica Wapner stitches the whole story together with tenacity, diligence (and humor). This is a wonderful, readable, and highly informative book.”
Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies

“Jessica Wapner shows us in The Philadelphia Chromosome how the past and the future combine to dramatically change the course of a disease. This beautifully written book is a blueprint for broader healthcare change. A pivotal book.”
David B. Agus, MD, Professor of Medicine and Engineering, University of Southern California, and author of The End of Illness

“Jessica Wapner has done two kinds of hard work gracefully: the hard work of understanding cancer genetics and the hard work of rendering that subject into human narrative, lucid explanation, and metaphor. The Philadelphia Chromosome is not just an urgently useful book. It's also an elegant one, put together like a Swiss watch.”
David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

“The Philadelphia Chromosome clearly explains how a half-century’s worth of research transformed a viciously lethal form of cancer into a chronic, treatable condition. Jessica Wapner’s meticulously researched book is both a real-life medical thriller and an engaging narrative about the history of modern cancer research.”
Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: The Experiment; Reprint edition (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1615191976
  • ISBN-13: 978-1615191970
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Reading the Philadelphia Chromosome transformed me into a mini scientist majoring in CML, Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. I was diagnosed with CML in November of 2003, which required keeping up-to-date on news relating to CML. When I heard about the Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner, I was anxious to add it to my shelf of resources.

Reading the book with pencil in hand to highlight new facts as well as valuable previous knowledge, I found myself marking information on every page.

When I was diagnosed my oncologist informed me that if there was ever a good time to get CML, it was now. At that precise moment, I had no idea what he was talking about. He may have elaborated, but in that moment of shock, I didn't hear much. Wapner's book has renewed my appreciation of that conversation every time I swallow my oral chemotherapy pill, Gleevec.

I have an entire file cabinet filled with lab results since 2003. My oncologist reviews the findings with me twice a year, but after reading the Philadelphia Chromosome, my understanding of the labs has improved. I have registered for a couple of CML conferences and am confident I will easily grasp new information presented after reading this book.

Years ago I started writing a book about living with CML. I found it too depressing to continue, however, not abandoning the therapeutic effect; I turned it into a blog, which I update once a month. marycrocco.wordpress.com Being helpful to a few readers who have stopped by makes it worthwhile.

Wapner shared a story of a patient who cherished her Gleevec and defended it with her life. I do the same thing, always insisting to sign for it and checking the delivery time is set for the morning.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is divided into roughly three parts. The first part consists of an account of how scientists tracked a certain kind of leukemia down to its genetic origins. Some of the explanation here can be a little difficult. But don't be put off. While this section doesn't necessarily make for light bedtime reading - it is accessible. Wapner presents the material in short, easily digestible chapters. She frequently reviews what's been covered so far, and she is a master of writing clear, logical sentences that include analogies from everyday life. So you will readily enough be able to understand this section if you just turn off the TV and concentrate for short stretches.

Your diligence will be rewarded. At the end of this section, you'll have a clear understanding of how this type of cancer, and of how cancers in general, can arise in the very core of our cells. You'll also understand how a drug can be tailored to specifically stymie the action of the aberrant chromosomes.

The second section deals with how Brian Druker and others ushered such a drug through the necessary test phases. Reading about this often frustrating process, you'll learn how tests must progress from animal to human subjects in order to eventually try for FDA approval. The pill that was eventually formulated proved to be so much more successful at fighting back the cancer than previous drugs or procedures, it was fast-tracked for FDA approval. Here the reading gets easier, although perhaps not quite as interesting.

Finally, Wapner recounts how the drug was named Gleevec and was marketed. She also tells how this pioneering drug has opened the door to what's become a flood of other drugs targeted at blocking the chemical chain of events that arise from a mutated gene.
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Format: Kindle Edition
n 1959 two Philadelphia researchers, David Hungerford, a scientist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, and Peter Newell, a physician studying cancer at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, made a momentous discovery that revolutionized the understanding of cancer. Hungerford, who specialized in studying and photographing chromosomes from a variety of species, looked at a slide of the cancerous cells from a patient with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), using a technique of halting chromosomes during division that was designed by Newell. To his great surprise, Hungerford noticed that one of the chromosomes was significantly shorter than it should have been. He took a photograph of the shortened chromosome and showed it to Newell, who subsequently prepared slides of cancerous cells from several other people with CML. Each of these patients had the same abnormal chromosome. The two published their findings in a three paragraph article in Science the following year. The study was largely ignored, as the study of genetics was in its infancy, and essentially no one suspected that cancer could be caused by chromosomal abnormalities.

Over a decade later Janet Rowley, a geneticist at the University of Chicago, studied these same cells from CML patients, using staining and visualization techniques that weren't available to Hungerford and Newell. She found the same shortened chromosome, which was by then determined to be chromosome 22, but she also found that chromosome 9 was also abnormal, being longer than it should have been.
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