As a lawyer, I sometimes find it challenging to grasp the scientific intricacies that form the basis of research at the Max Delbrück Center. Therefore, I am grateful to have come across the book "The Song of the Cell" by the American oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee.
The physician and researcher at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York has written several books on molecular biology and biomedicine. In his latest work, Mukherjee delves into the world of a cell, the interplay of molecules, the discovery of cellular structures and functions, its differentiation and pathologies, and ultimately, cell repair and renewal. His writing is engaging and entertaining, even for those who are not biologists or medical professionals.
Mukherjee compellingly describes new medical methods, investigates infections and pathogens, and offers numerous insights into the history of science. He also shares his personal experiences. For example, he vividly recounts the case of a patient with a blood clotting disorder who survived but left an indelible impression on him, making him more cautious with the term "bloodbath."
The book begins in the 17th century, when the development of microscopes revolutionized cell biology. Dignitaries like Rudolf Virchow and Robert Koch find their place in the narrative, as well as the history of reproductive medicine and the first in vitro baby, Louise Brown.
For Mukherjee, modern medicine is a sequence of surprising events. But is also marked by numerous setbacks, especially in the field of cancer medicine. He thoroughly explores these aspects as well.
Mukherjee devotes an entire chapter to the COVID-19 pandemic because, for him, cell biology is at the center of the medical mysteries surrounding the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
In the section on T cells, Mukherjee describes his friendship with his former mentor, with whom he conducted research on the interaction with chronic viral infections during his doctoral studies in immunology at Oxford. His mentor tragically fell ill with lung cancer and lost the battle.
Mukherjee does not exaggerate scientific achievements; he also acknowledges the limits of our knowledge. However, research helps healthcare professionals to better understand the origins of diseases. The individual cell is a part of a larger whole.
"The Song of the Cell" is a must-read for anyone who is not an expert and wishes to understand how the human body works. It conveys molecular biology vividly and with flair. An absolute recommendation!
“The Song of the Cell. An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human” by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Scribner, 2022.