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Around the Columns

Science on Saturdays

science

The Saturday Morning Science series at the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center showcases faculty from MU's science departments and provides weekend educational enrichment for Columbians.

Steve Alexander begins his lecture by challenging a conclusion Newsweek draws in a September 2008 issue: Mankind's war on cancer has failed.

"I don't think we've lost this battle," says Alexander, professor of biological sciences. "There's no simple fix for cancer, but we now know there is no simple fix because it's not just one disease."

Alexander presented, "What we know after the 38-year war on cancer" April 11 as part of the Saturday Morning Science series at the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center. The program showcases faculty from MU's science departments and provides educational enrichment for Columbians during the weekend.

Alexander's presentation reviewed the history of cancer, the complexities of its treatment and the progress science has made. 

By using the analogy of a car's acceleration and brake systems, he explained how oncogenes (accelerators) speed up cell growth, while suppressor genes (brakes) slow it down. When there is an imbalance on the oncogene side of the equation, tumors result.

He also described, in lay terms, how viral, genetic, environmental and age factors further complicate cancer.

Yet Alexander was optimistic about the future of diagnosis and treatment because of genome sequencing, a process allowing doctors to specifically target cancer. "This is going to revolutionize medicine," he says. "The idea is, you can have your tumor genome sequenced and if you have cancer, doctors will be able to tell you precisely what the changes are."

Organized by College of Arts and Science professors Marc Johnson, Bruce McClure and Wouter Montfrooij, the Saturday science program has gained in popularity since its inception in the fall of 2003. In addition to the presentations by top scientists, the event offers coffee, bagels and donuts in the Monsanto Auditorium lobby before each lecture.

"The best reaction is just the ever increasing number of people that are showing up," McClure says. "We have a lot of people who make it part of their Saturday."