p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code

Recently I have been reading the book titled 'p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code' by Sue Armstrong. I am now reading 'General Chemistry' by Linus Pauling (do not expect a review on this one, it isn't really that sort of book - regardless, it is a very good textbook) and 'The Little Book of String Theory' Steven S. Gubser.

p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code


Price (as of writing): £16.99 on Amazon

Publisher Synopsis: 

All of us have lurking in our DNA a most remarkable gene, which has a crucial job - it protects us from cancer. Known simply as p53, this gene constantly scans our cells to ensure that they grow and divide without mishap, as part of the routine maintenance of our bodies. If a cell makes a mistake in copying its DNA during the process of division, p53 stops it in its tracks, summoning a repair team before allowing the cell to carry on dividing. If the mistake is irreparable and the rogue cell threatens to grow out of control, p53 commands the cell to commit suicide. Cancer cannot develop unless p53 itself is damaged or prevented from functioning normally.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, p53 is the most studied single gene in history.

This book tells the story of medical science's mission to unravel the mysteries of this crucial gene, and to get to the heart of what happens in our cells when they turn cancerous. Through the personal accounts of key researchers, p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code reveals the fascination of the quest for scientific understanding, as well as the huge excitement of the chase for new cures - the hype, the enthusiasm, the lost opportunities, the blind alleys, and the thrilling breakthroughs. And as the long-anticipated revolution in cancer treatment tailored to each individual patient's symptoms begins to take off at last, p53 remains at the cutting edge.

This timely tale of scientific discovery highlights the tremendous recent advances made in our understanding of cancer, a disease that affects more than one in three of us at some point in our lives.


This is a very interesting book, of which just the first few pages proposes new questions I had not thought of such as "Why so few?". Generally we assume that there are so many people with cancer that it is very common, but when you look into what actually causes cancer it is amazing how so few people get it in the first place. Billions of cell divisions go on in your body every day, and it is very rare that any of these will turn cancerous. This book explores this idea and the help that p53 provides in preventing cancers from spreading. To put it simply using an analogy this book uses a lot more proficiently than I can, p53 is a checkpoint in the synthesis stage of interphase in the mitotic cycle. It prevents damaged DNA to duplicate.

As well as explaining how p53 works and what it does, it also gives some insight into the researchers in this field and their struggles against large businesses, such as the Tobacco industry when research was published about smoking causing cancer. It almost turns into an espionage novel at that point! Overall this is a very good book, and one I would strongly recommend.