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Cancer theory stands the test of time -- rediscovering Boveri a century later

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. Rarely has a book in the biological sciences proved as prescient as Theodor Boveris 1914 monograph Concerning the Origin of Malignant Tumours. Out of print for decades and previously almost impossible to track down, the book is now available as a new and authoritative translation, co-published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press and The Company of Biologists.

Concerning the Origin of Malignant Tumours had a huge impact on cancer research. In it, Boveri was the first to argue that cancer is caused by defects in chromosomes and that these can be caused by a failure of cells to divide properly. He also proposed that the cells natural urge is to divide and that it is held in check by specific mechanisms that prevent cancer almost a hundred years later we know this to be true, having identified so-called tumor suppressors like the retinoblastoma protein. Perhaps most astonishingly, Boveri also predicted the existence of genes, suggesting that hereditary characters are aligned along chromosomes in a specific order.

Regularly quoted and frequently misquoted the only English version of Concerning the Origin of Malignant Tumours ever available before was a rare translation by Boveris wife, who was not a biologist. The new translation is by Sir Henry Harris, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, and includes extensive annotations in which Harris discusses the relevance of Boveris views today.

Reviewing the book, leading geneticist Felix Mitelman wrote that he cannot find superlatives enough to praise the lucid text, adding that the annotations contain words of wisdom that I wish could be made compulsory reading.


Contact: Ingrid Benirschke
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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Cancer theory stands the test of time -- rediscovering Boveri a century later
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