The Culprit is Cancer
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is a big, gentle man with soulful brown eyes and a thick, brown
mustache threaded with gray. Today, sitting in his barely used office
in the Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Research Laboratories building
on campus, he's wearing khaki slacks and a pale-blue oxford shirt.
He sips a Diet 7-Up as we talk. On top of his rather consuming job,
he's busier than ever with media interviews Newsweek, Nightline,
New York Magazine. But he'll take as much time as you need to explain
the wonders of molecular biology, the mystifying nature of cancer
cells. He is notably down-to-earth, accessible. The patients in
his study, some of whom feel they have come back from the dead,
admire him openly. One 54-year-old corporate lawyer, whose cancer
had metastasized to her liver but who has now returned to work,
calls him "truly inspirational."
is deeply appreciative of the women as well, humbled by their courage.
"There's no way to learn how to use a drug in humans without testing
on humans," he says emphatically. "So these are really the heroines
of the story. We explained the risks. To a person, not one said
no. 'I understand it may not help me,' they said, 'but it may help
somebody down the line.' It was extraordinary to hear that kind
out of the University of Chicago, where he earned his M.D. and
Ph.D., Slamon came to UCLA in 1979 to pursue a fellowship in oncology.
At the time, researchers were beginning to explore the role genetic
defects might play in cancer. Slamon was taken with this area of
study and, with a small grant from UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center,
began screening genes in the lab. The work, involving cell lines
and animal models, was tedious and slow.
wondered if there wasn't a better way. What if his team looked at
cells in human tumors instead? It was a logical idea, but not without
risk. "Had I been as sophisticated scientifically as some of my
colleagues," he says, "we probably wouldn't have approached the
problem that way. In human tissue you don't have 100-percent cancer
tissue. You have cancer tissue and many normal cells. So you have
to be very careful interpreting your results."