“In this brilliant book, David Agus
introduces a whole new way of looking at Illness
. Taking a cue from physics, he views the body as a complex system and helps us see how everything from cancer to nutrition fits into one whole picture. The result is both a useful guide on how to stay Healthy and a fascinating analysis of the latest in medical science.” --Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
“Dr. David Agus has given us a remarkable peek into our Health--and the impact will be profound. I’ve made it my mission in life to live strong and help others do the same. The End of Illness
is one more empowering piece to the puzzle of knowing how to do just that. This book will prevent Illness, revolutionize treatments, and lengthen people's lives. A tour de force in its delivery and message.” -- Lance Armstrong, 7-time Tour de France winner and Founder and Chairman, LIVESTRONG
“David Agus is one of America’s great doctors and medical researchers, a man dedicated to improving the Health of as many people as he can. Written in a style and format that will truly engage readers, The End of Illness
presents a dramatic, new way of thinking about our own Health—a way that could lead to greatly improving the quality of life for millions, starting right now.” -- Al Gore, 45th Vice President of the United States, Nobel Laureate in Peace, 2007
“As physician, research scientist, and friendly guide, Dr. Agus takes his readers on a fascinating tour of ideas and facts about Health and Illness. They will find many of those ideas to be unconventional and thought-provoking and many of the facts to be both striking and surprising. Read this book and you will very likely change at least some of your views on Health and Illness.” -- Murray Gell-Mann, PhD, Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1969, and Distinguished Fellow and Cofounder of The Santa Fe Institute
“David Agus's The End of Illness
is a brilliant blend of enlightening manifesto and practical how-to in the realm of our most important ingredient to a long and happy life: Health. Filled with unorthodox ideas backed with hard science, it simplifies for the reader the complexity of vital developments happening in medicine today and teaches us how to make the most of what's available, as well as what's soon to come.” – Michael Dell, Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Dell, Inc.
“Dr. David Agus is surfing the crest of two great waves of innovation -- in information technology and the life sciences. His End of Illness
uses Big Data to decode the personal and molecular basis of disease. And, more important, advance a new model for Health where prevention is key. -- John Doerr, partner Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers
, one of the nation's most innovative cancer doctors, shatters the myths about Health and wellness and provides us with a handbook for living a long, Healthy Life
." -- Steve Case, Chairman of Revolution and The Case Foundation, co-founder America Online
“In this seminal book, Dr. David Agus presents a brilliant new model of Health based on the body as a complex system with an emphasis on prevention. The End of Illness
may reframe everything you thought you knew about Health. It is both provocative and inspiring. Highly recommended.” -- Dean Ornish, MD founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco
“Dr. David Agus has been disrupting medicine as we know it for his entire career. Now, he brings his ideas out of the lab and exam room and into the lives of everyone—showing us how to live long, Healthy, disease-free lives. Reading this book is the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones. A monumental work that will change your life.” -- Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO, salesforce.com
David Agus is one of the great medical thinkers of our age. "The End of Illness" reframes the entire discussion of sickness and Health. Instead of thinking about disease Agus thinks about the system that is the human body, and what we need to do to guide it toward Health
. Before you take your next vitamin, read this book. — Danny Hillis, PhD, Co-founder, Applied Minds and Thinking Machines
About the Author
Dr. David B. Agus is a professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and Viterbi School of Engineering and heads U.S.C.’s Westside Cancer Center and the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine. He is one of the world’s leading cancer doctors, and the co-founder of two pioneering personalized medicine companies, Navigenics and Applied Proteomics. Dr. Agus is an international leader in new technologies and approaches for personalized Healthcare, chairs the Global Agenda Council (GAC) on Genetics for the World Economic Forum, and speaks regularly at TEDMED, the Aspen Ideas Festival, DLD and the World Economic Forum. He has received numerous awards, including the 2009 GQ Magazine Rockstar of Science Award.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
1 What Is Health? A New Definition That Changes Everything Everyone has a vague idea of what it means to live a Healthy Life. Eating a balanced diet: good. Smoking: bad. Breaking a sweat regularly: good. Binge drinking: bad. Getting a restful night’s sleep: bonus. Being happy: double bonus. Some of us may choose to disregard these basic tenets on occasion, but for the most part, we know the difference between the habits that help us stay youthful and strong, and those that can detract from our well-being. We try our best to stay out of harm’s way, but what happens when we get sick or develop a chronic medical condition or, heaven forbid, are diagnosed with a serious Illness? After experiencing the frustration of Why me? many of us begin to ask ourselves other, more probing inquiries about where we might have gone wrong. Was it something in the water? A lifelong love of hamburgers and fries? An overdemanding boss and, as a result, an overwhelming stress level? Too much alcohol? Too little exercise? Secondhand smoke? Exposure to industrial chemicals? A habit of living dangerously, whatever that might mean? Bad luck? Or perhaps, some of us think, this outcome was fated because it was just in my DNA all along. If I could collect a nickel for every time someone in the world thought that genetics was wholly to blame for this Illness or that defect, I’d be the wealthiest man on earth. It’s human nature to point fingers at someone or something else for our flaws and shortcomings, and to avoid any personal culpability. Because DNA tends to be a relatively abstract construct, much like black holes or quarks, which we cannot touch, see, or feel, it might as well be a “something else” to which we can assign guilt. After all, DNA is “given” to us by our parents and we have no choice. In this regard, DNA is practically accidental; just as accidents happen, so does DNA, without our having much say in the matter. What most people don’t think about, though, is that DNA says more about our risk than our fate. It governs probabilities, not necessarily destinies. As my friend and colleague Danny Hillis (whom we’ll meet later when I cover emerging technologies) likes to describe it, DNA is simply a list of parts or ingredients rather than a complete manual that explains how those parts work together to generate results. To hold your DNA responsible for your Health is missing the forest for the trees. It’s not the piÈce de rÉsistance. I say this knowing full well that DNA does hold certain keys to your Health; if it didn’t, then I wouldn’t have cofounded a company that performs genetic testing so you can take preventive measures based on your genomic risk profile. But right from the get-go I want to entice you to start thinking from a broader perspective that goes far beyond your genes. I want you to view your body—from the outer stretches of your skin to the inner sanctum of your cellular makeup—as a whole system. It’s a uniquely organized and highly functioning system that leaves so much to the imagination because we’re only just beginning to solve its riddles. So therefore, as we probe the mystery of the human body more deeply, we discover that this system, and its complex riddles, don’t necessarily hinge on DNA alone. The Inescapable Statistics To understand how we’ve arrived at a place where we focus so much on DNA, and why it’s critical to respect the body as an elaborate system beyond genetics, it helps to explore the evolution of our thinking processes against the backdrop of the challenges we’ve faced—and continue to face—in our quest for Health and longevity. Most of our transformative breakthroughs in medicine have occurred only recently, in the last sixty or so years. Following the discovery of penicillin in 1928, which changed the whole landscape of fighting infections based on the knowledge that they were caused by bacteria, we got good at extending our lives by several years and, in many cases, decades. This was made possible through a constellation of contributing circumstances, including a decline in cigarette smoking, changes in our diets for the better, improvements in diagnostics and medical care, and of course advancements in targeted therapies and drugs such as cholesterol-lowering statins. Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States since 1921, and stroke has been the third-leading cause since 1938; together, these vascular diseases account for approximately 40 percent of all deaths. Since 1950, however, age-adjusted death rates from cardiovascular disease have declined 60 to 70 percent, representing one of the most important public Health achievements of the twentieth century. The Science and Art of Defining Your Health Death Rates for Leading Causes of Death: All Ages Put another way: But here’s the sobering truth sitting on the sidelines of these triumphs like a lumbering white elephant: the death rate from cancer from 1950 to 2007 (the most current data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) didn’t change much. We are making enormous progress against other chronic diseases, but little against cancer. Indeed, there are little wins here and there with unique types of cancer. Take, for instance, chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare type of leukemia that had previously been a death sentence except for a small number of patients who benefited from bone-marrow transplantation. With the FDA approval of Gleevec (brand name for imatinib mesylate) in May 2001—the same month it made the cover of Time magazine as the “magic bullet” to cure cancer—we now have a way to successfully treat most patients and achieve remarkable recovery rates. The drug targets the particular chromosomal rearrangement that is present in this disease (part of chromosome 9 is fused to part of chromosome 22). In clinical trials, the response rate to Gleevec was over 90 percent. People went from their deathbeds to functional life after taking this small molecule with few side effects. But with the more common deadly cancers, including those that ravage the lung, colon, breast, prostate, brain, and so on, we’ve had an embarrassingly small impact on death rates. Whenever I throw the chart on the previous page, “Change in the US Death Rates by Cause,” on a slide up in front of an audience, I hear a few gasps of disbelief. How can this be? What did we do wrong in our research? Is there is mistake, or perhaps a typo, in this data? I showed this graphic during my 2009 TEDMED talk as part of a larger discussion that included thirty-seven other slides and have received hundreds of e-mails since referring to just this one slide. Many of the inquiries are aggressive in tone—accusing me of being a pessimist and somehow manipulating the data. I wish I could present better news from my camp. This graph demonstrates the profound effect that therapeutics such as statins have had in heart disease and stroke. Antibiotics and antivirals, including vaccines, have put a major dent in cases of pneumonia and infections. Even when we consider cancer rates across the globe, we can find some statistics that defy all the stereotypes. In some of the sub-Saharan countries, where we tend to think about diseases such as AIDS and other infections common in underdeveloped nations, more people die of cancer than of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. In 2010, chronic disease overtook infectious disease as the leading killer worldwide. So this problem isn’t just a major cause of concern in America. It affects the global community at large. The lack of change in the death rate from cancer is truly alarming. The more astonishing observation that I want you to note here, though, is that antibiotics and antivirals do not target the human being—they target the external, invading organism. Statins, on the other hand, target the human system in ways that we are starting to learn more about. Contrary to popular belief, the statins work not just by lowering cholesterol through a single pathway or point of interaction in the body; they have a profound effect on the entire system, lowering inflammation, thereby changing the body’s entire environment. Vaccines also target the system, but do so in a clever way—activating the immune system artificially by making it seem as though a foreign organism has invaded the body. I stated plainly in the introduction that this isn’t a cancer book, but I need to draw from my experience as an oncologist to get you to understand a few core concepts. We can actually trace our relationship to Health to the study of cancer. When we consider the legacy of disease in our history and how we’ve come to understand today a mysterious malady such as cancer, we can begin to see how and why we may have veered off track. We can identify the thinking processes and misconceptions that we’ve blindly embraced and that have thwarted our efforts to advance medicine and, in turn, our individual goals of optimal Health. On a positive note, we can begin to see how we can shift direction and embrace a new frontier in the pursuit of Health customized to each person, you and me. We can eventually reach a point where we can make meaningful advances in the “war” against all Illnesses. A Cancerous Perspective Cancer, as I explained earlier, is a great metaphor for anything related to sickness. It’s every person’s archenemy, the bearer of all things “bad” when it comes to Health, happiness, and of course longevity. All of us fear learning that our body has turned against us—that cancer has struck and the future is uncertain. This uncertainty can be most unpleasant. Suddenly we cannot answer questions such as where, how, why, and when—as in when will I be ca...