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Dr. Folkman's War: Angiogenesis and the Struggle to Defeat Cancer [Hardcover]

Robert Cooke , C. Everett Koop
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 6 2001
In 1961, twenty-eight-year-old Dr. Judah Folkman saw something while doing medical research in a United

States navy lab that gave him the first glimmering of a wild, inspired hunch. What if cancerous tumors, in order to expand, needed to trigger the growth of new blood vessels to feed themselves? And if that was true, what if a way could be found to stop that growth? Could cancers be starved to death? Dr. Folkman had ample reason to be self confident — second in his class at Harvard Medical School, he was already considered one of the most promising doctors of his generation. But even he never guessed that his idea would eventually grow into a multibillion-dollar industry that is now racing through human trials with drugs that show unparalleled promise of being able to control cancer, as well as other deadly diseases.

For the creation of this book, Dr. Judah Folkman cooperated fully and exclusively with acclaimed science writer Robert Cooke. He granted Cooke unlimited interviews, showed him diaries and personal papers, and threw open the doors of his lab. The result is an astonishingly rich and candid chronicle of one of the most significant medical discoveries of our time and of the man whose vision and persistence almost single-handedly has made it possible.

Dr. Folkman's radical new way of thinking about cancer was once considered preposterous. So little was known about how cancer spreads and how blood vessels grow that he wasn't even taken seriously enough to be considered a heretic. Other doctors shook their heads at the waste of a great mind, and ambitious young medical researchers were told that accepting a position in Folkman's lab would be the death of their careers. Now, though, the overwhelming majority of experts believes that the day will soon come when antiangiogenesis therapy supplants the current more toxic and less-effective treatments — chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery-as the preferred method of treatment for cancer in patients around the world, and Dr. Folkman's breakthrough will come to be taken for granted the way we now take for granted the polio vaccine and antibiotics.

Dr. Folkman's War brilliantly describes how high the odds are against success in medical research, how vicious the competition for grants, how entrenched the skepticism about any genuinely original thinking, how polluted by politics and commerce the process of getting medicine into patients' hands. But it also depicts with rare power how exalted a calling medicine can be and how for the rare few—the brilliant, the tireless, and the lucky — the results of success can be world-changing.

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Early in 1998, New York Times science reporter and author Gina Kolata happened to be seated at a banquet next to the Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson. When Kolata asked Watson what was new in the world of science, he replied, "Judah Folkman and angiogenesis, that's what's new. Judah is going to cure cancer in two years."

Folkman, a longtime physician and medical researcher at Harvard University and Children's Hospital, was caught off guard by the excited news reports that followed Watson's remark, but there was good reason for excitement. For nearly four decades, when not busy doing such things as inventing the heart pacemaker and attending to hundreds of patients, Folkman had been puzzling out a peculiarity of tumors: at some point during their formation, they sent forth chemical signals that in effect "recruited" blood vessels to feed them. If those signals could be intercepted through well-targeted drugs, Folkman reasoned, and the blood supply to cancerous formations thus interrupted, then the tumors themselves might be starved to death, or at least to dormancy.

In this book, Newsday writer Robert Cooke offers an accessible account of Folkman's work on angiogenesis, or the formation of blood vessels, which may well point the way to new treatments for cancer and related illnesses. Following Folkman's roundabout trail, one marked by considerable resistance on the part of doubtful colleagues, readers will gain a sense of how medical research is conducted--and, almost certainly, a sense of wonder at the medical breakthroughs that, as James Watson hinted, are just around the corner. --Gregory McNamee


"Judah Folkman's answer-stop cancers by cutting off their blood supplies-has much too long been thought of as too simple to ever work. Now, however, a broad set of antiangiogenic agents based on Judah's ideas are coming on line. The verdict 'cancer' need no longer be synonymous with fear and despair. Our country's 'war against cancer' at last has found its general."
—JAMES D. WATSON, winner of the Nobel Prize and author of The Double Helix

"It is said that genius disdains the beaten path, and that's certainly true of Dr. Judah Folkman. He has suffered for it, but his imagination, his persistence-and yes, his glorious obsession-will benefit us all. We owe him our boundless gratitude."
-JONATHAN HARR, author of A Civil Action

"Rarely in the history of modem biomedical research has a major advance been attributable directly to the energies and vision of a single individual. This is such a story, about one man's vision, drive, indeed obsession with an idea that will one day dramatically change cancer therapy."
-ROBERT A. WEINBERG, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and MIT, author of One Renegade Cell: How Cancer Begins and Racing to the Beginning of the Road: The Search for the Origin of Cancer

"I first encountered Judah Folkman when I was a surgical intern at Boston City Hospital. His already legendary crisp intellect provided a logical scaffold for my understanding of complex diseases. Judah, full of warmth and humanity, inspired me and generations of young doctors and scientists to pursue careers in his image. Dr Folkman's War does a masterly job of describing his gentle and determined magic. We are fortunate that Mr. Cooke has so meticulously, engagingly, and honestly captured Judah's story. It will serve as a powerful beacon for all who tenaciously pursue the understanding and treatment of human disease."
-WARREN M. ZAPOL, Reginald Jenney Professor of Anaesthesia, Harvard Medical School, and anesthetist-in-chief, Massachusetts General Hospital

"Sadly, my first meeting with Dr. Judah Folkman may have and most likely did come too late. We met as I searched desperately for a medical solution to the critical illness of my wife, Winnie, but by then her cancer had advanced beyond salvation. Nonetheless, I was deeply impressed by what I learned of Dr. Folkman's pioneering work in the cancer research field and his personal commitment and that of his close associates to success in this vital effort."

"Robert Cooke is without a doubt the most scrupulous and judicious science writer I have ever known. His strong passion for accuracy and fair play sings from every page of Dr Folkman's War, taking the battle against cancer beyond sensationalism to a place that is at once informative and exciting. Because the book is grounded, as such journalism should be, on solid science, hope sounds from it all the more loudly."
-LAURIE GARRETT, author of Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars interesting story, but ...... Nov. 30 2001
By A Customer
I work in this field of research. I do like the story of the persistance and creativity of Judah Folkman. However, the author stumbles in describing some of the science and the intellectual contributions of others that led to some of the Folkman lab's discoveries. After reading the reviewers' praise for Mr. Cooke's "detailed research " on the book's back cover, I was diappointed by some obvious errors in the book. I believe that most of the innaccuracies are the unfortunate result of the author's failure to corroborate all of his facts. He may have been in a hurry to get the book out, but I wish that he had taken a little more time to get the science and other facts straight.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Cure for cancer? Feb. 6 2002
Chances are someone close to you has succumbed to the ravages of cancer, while you and the medical establishment could only sit by and watch the process reach its inevitable conclusion. The good news is, for nearly 40 years, Dr. Judah Folkman has been pursuing a cure for cancer -- or at least a way to fight tumors more effectively than chemotherapy or radiation -- that only until very recently has garnered serious attention. Dr. Folkman's theory is called angiogenesis, the process by which cancer cells emit an agent which triggers the growth of blood vessels to feed the growth of the cancer itself. For years Dr. Folkman's idea was basically scoffed at as the flailings of an amateur researcher, but Cooke shows how Dr. Folkman has perservered -- while maintaining his brilliant career as a physician -- and eventually, through a slow accumulation of experimental evidence, as well as the discovery of several antiangionesis agents, turned opinion around. Throughout this engaging and fascinating retelling of Folkman's journey, Cooke also provides an eye-opening account of the workings of academia, medical research, and their relationships to those Orwellian biotech companies you keep hearing about. The science is clear and vivid, the battle to defeat cancer inspiring, and the promise of victory -- thankfully, finally -- just around the corner.
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Dr. Folkman is my kind of doctor and my kind of researcher. The science establishment in this country has always had a major problem with people who are different, whether they think differently, or appear different (hence the rush by scientists to practice negative eugenics on people with disabilities). Folkman asked the questions that needed to be asked concerning cancer and tumor production, and in spite of all the negative reviews and downright nastiness of his scientific peers, he persisted in practicing good science. This ultimately led to major discoveries about how cancer works, as well as other necessary biochemical information that is now taught on a daily basis to medical research students in neuroscience and other fields.
Folkman is one of those people who are in science and medicine for the benefits of others, as well as because he enjoys what he does. These are the types of people who ultimately do the most good. They quietly persist in their endeavors, and let their work tell the story. Too many times, scientists allow their questions and the answers to those questions to be influenced by the egos of their peers, the quest for fame and money (especially in biotechnology and genetics), and by fear of ridicule. It is unfortunate that so much science is done in labs throughout the world in such a way as to crush those who have unique ideas and can add creativity to the scientific endeavor.
Folkman obviously made his lab a wonderful place to work in. To do that and be a good teacher, as well as an excellent researcher (who cares if he is a surgeon...it's the questions that are asked and researched that are important, not who does the asking). Those who were able to work with him and in his lab had valuable experiences, that happens all too rarely in the labs in this country.
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5.0 out of 5 stars From the Far East Oct. 15 2001
I am really impressed by "Dr. Folkman's War." Somewhat different excitement from '"Genome" by Matt Ridley.
Dr. Folkman's broad mind and broad view of things are almost incredible. In the 'publish-or-perish' 'world of medicine, his broad-mindedness brought a great progress in the treatment of giant hemangioma, diabetic gangrene, diabetic retinopathy, or coronary heart disease, to say nothing of cancer therapy.
Dr. Isner's comment about Dr. folkaman is intriguing.
"Plenty of other people in that position, had they reviewed that paper, would have rejected it and then set their own laboratories to work on that subject, or they would maybe have stalled the paper, or done anything they could to have stomped out any potential competition. But he did just the opposite. He promoted it."
He was never territorial or overly protective of this field he had invented and happy to help other scientists push ahead, even if they were competitors.
He must be the ideal "Boss".
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is phenomenal! Sept. 28 2001
By Katie
For a class assignment, I had to write a book review of a biography of a scientist. Being a cancer survivor, and particularly in touch with the issue as a good friend of mine died from a relapse this summer, I was interested in cancer research. When I chose Dr. Folkman's War, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was definitely better than what I had planned. As I began reading the book, I found I could not put it down! The lack of perfect chronology at times confused me for a minute or two, but it's not hard to pick up on. Anyone who has had their life touched - directly or indirectly - by cancer should definitely read this book. It takes you through a basic history of cancer research, and, having been written this year, ends with very current and pertinent information for anyone interested in the current direction of cancer treatment. For people struggling with a terminal illness, it is quite heartening to realize that there is a person out there who is working so hard to make you feel better. My favorite part of the book is at the end where Dr. Folkman tells some of his young proteges and interns to never ever tell a patient that nothing can be done. It may be small, but you can hold a patient's hand, and look out the hospital window with them, point to the research building and say, "Do you see that building over there? That's the research building. We're working on it."
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr. Folkman is my hero -- a story better than SeaBiscuit!
This book by Robert Cooke is incredible! Mr. Cooke is able to explain to the average layperson the medical concepts of angeiogeneis conceived by the most under-valued person of... Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2003 by L Hay
4.0 out of 5 stars Now I know what "seminal" means
Folkman is a paradox in the medical research world. He is a highly talented and committed surgeon by training - a profession ruthlessly focused on "results - now! Read more
Published on June 2 2001 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
I have read quite a few books about the science of disease research and this is one of the best yet. Folkman's story is fascinating and Cooke tells it well. Read more
Published on March 14 2001 by rob
5.0 out of 5 stars Father of academic capitalism
Why Medtronic must build Folkman Institute for Angiogenic Research in Boston? Who is a real father of academic capitalism? How great bioscientist selects and trains great pupils? Read more
Published on March 1 2001 by Informed reader
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Odyssey of Medical Innovation
This book clearly deserves many more than five stars.
Dr. Folkman's War contains many valuable insights including how to: Raise children to be outstanding people; be an... Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2001 by Donald Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book about a great man!
This is a story of brilliance and persistence. Dr. Folkman pursued a different approach to cancer in spite of resistence and hostility from the cancer research establishment. Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2001 by Johnny Quest
5.0 out of 5 stars Persistence & vision overcomes dogma an ignorance.
Through long, arduous practice, Buddhists believe it is possible to remove the lens of self-interest and dogma to perceive "absolute reality," with "automatic... Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Answer The Question?
For over 40 years Dr. Folkman has worked day and night in an attempt to answer the question. Mr. Cooke's wonderful style brings the story to life. Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2001 by Bill C.
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