As they go about their day-to-day business keeping our bodies running smoothly, every cell harbours a latent capacity to snap out of their well-behaved routine and go rogue. When a gene that can normally be relied upon to carry out essential bodily functions is mutated or corrupted, it can transform a harmless cell into the seed of cancer. The traitorous genes, known as oncogenes, interrupt the mechanisms that usually maintain good cell behaviour, and lead to an uncontrolled explosion of growth. That oncogenes stem from vulnerable genes within the genomes of us all – known as proto-oncogenes – has revolutionised the way we view cancer. Made in part by Harold Varmus – born on this day in 1939 – this discovery altered the course of cancer research. His research exposing the cancerous monster to be just a distorted version of our normal selves earned him the 1989 Nobel Prize.
Written by Anthony Lewis
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.