In late November of 1991, a three-year-old girl was diagnosed with leukemia. There was a 30 percent chance she would die.
In the coming months, she would receive a long list of chemotherapy drugs: 6MP, asparaginase, methotrexate, prednisone, and vincrinstine. The miracle was not only that these drugs could potentially cure her, but that they existed at all.
In his fantastic book, The Emperor of All Maladies, author and physician Sid Mukherjee explains the history of cancer and how brilliant physicians and scientists finally began to discover cures for the disease.
You see, for many years, doctors and scientists dreamed of finding a single cure for all cancers. They searched for a radical surgery or a miracle drug that could cure everything from breast cancer to leukemia to prostate cancer. According to Mukherjee, however, breakthroughs finally came when scientists stopped trying to tackle this large scale problem and made the problem smaller.
The first breakthrough came when Sidney Farber, now known as the Father of Modern Chemotheraphy, decided to focus exclusively on treating leukemia. He was one of the first physicians to dedicate his efforts solely to a single type of cancer and by narrowing his focus Farber was able to make significant progress against this single condition.
Eventually, the drugs and treatments Farber uncovered for leukemia led to new solutions for other cancers. By focusing on one tiny vertical, Farber uncovered answers that could be used to treat the larger problem. As Mukherjee put it, “[By] focusing microscopically on a single disease, one could extrapolate into the entire universe of diseases.” 
This central idea, that solving large complex problems is often accomplished by first attacking smaller micro-problems, is useful not just for cancer treatments, but for life in general.
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