- The Indian American physician and author’s book highlights the emerging field of cell therapy and how it is being used to create a breakthrough in the treatment of several deadly diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and AIDS.
Indian American physician and author Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s ‘The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human’ has been longlisted for the prestigious Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction. The book highlights the emerging field of cell therapy and how it is being used to create a breakthrough in the treatment of several deadly diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and AIDS.
The New York-based cancer physician and researcher, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University, is chosen with 12 other authors from around the world for the annual GBP 50,000 prize, which aims to recognize and reward the best of non-fiction and is open to authors of any nationality. The prize covers all non-fiction in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.
The longlist of 13 books were chosen by this year’s judging panel: Literary Editor of Financial Times, Frederick Studemann (chair); award-winning author Andrea Wulf, theatre critic for The Guardian Arifa Akbar, the writer and historian Ruth Scurr, journalist and critic Tanjil Rashid and Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts Andrew Haldane. They said “Mukherjee provides the definitive account of this remarkable cellular story, authoritative yet at the same time personal.” He has “that rarest of scientific gifts – the ability to pull back the magical curtain of complexities to reveal, like cells themselves, the foundations of life.”
In a fireside chat in New York City in December last year, Mukherjee talked about the genus of the book and the reasons he wrote it, and how he used “stories to decipher and explain the cell — the “unsung hero.” Likening the cell to a musical score, he has highlighted “the single least autonomous unit of life” which is “incredibly diverse.” Talking about the genesis of the book as well and the reasons he wrote it. Not only was there a book about the cell, but the lack of knowledge on it was frustrating. “Without cells we would be nothing,” he says, adding that he wanted “to correct that missing link.” The book includes several revelatory and exhilarating stories of scientists, doctors, and patients.
Delving into the cell further, Mukherjee calls it “incredibly diverse,” with a diverse purpose. “A neuron doesn’t look anything like a skin cell, which is nothing like a blood cell, and is different from a muscle cell,” he notes. “Yet they are all playing out the geno — just as you play out a musical score.” And hence the title — “The Song of Cell.” He believes that as we move ahead in time, we will understand these songs, and they will help us understand physiology.”
Mukherjee has a particular interest in T-cells — a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system activated to fight disease. He’s been treating patients in India who have certain types of cancer with genetically engineered T-cell variants. Genetically engineered T-cells, known as CAR [chimeric antigen receptor], have become a staple in the treatment of certain kinds of leukemias, lymphomas and blood cancers.