Humanities Forum - Greg Morgan, "Is Cancer Catching?"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 ( 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm )

Location: Morton 324, Stevens Institute of Technology

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In this presentation, Gregory Morgan will discuss the career of Ludwik Gross, a Polish American virologist. Gross made two important scientific advances in the 1950s, discovering the first mouse leukemia virus and a mouse tumor that he called parotid tumor virus. He faced much skepticism and opposition to his motivating idea that viruses caused cancer, but by the end of the decade, the medical community recognized him as a pioneer when researchers were able to duplicate his methods and results, and additional tumor and leukemia-causing mouse viruses were found by Arnold Graffi, Charlotte Friend, John Moloney, and others. Gross also faced competition from Sarah Stewart and Bernice Eddy, who renamed the parotid tumor virus SE polyoma virus after finding it could cause many different types of tumors in mice, hamsters, and rats.  Later the “SE” was dropped and virologists adopted the name “polyoma virus.”  In 1961 Gross published Oncogenic Viruses, the first history of tumor virology, which became a standard reference work.

Gregory Morgan an Associate Professor in Philosophy in the College of Arts & Letters at Stevens. His research areas include environmental policy, business ethics, and history and philosophy of biology. In the past he has written about the nature of microbial biodiversity, the ontology of life, and the birth of molecular biology. His first book, Philosophy of Science Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011), examined the nature of scientific evidence. His current research project examines the history of the idea that viruses cause cancer. It is thought that 20% of cancers world wide are caused by viruses like Hepatitis B and HPV, and much of the current understanding of the molecular basis of cancer is due to pioneering work done with viruses that cause cancers in chickens, mice, and primates. His next book, Cancer Virus Hunters, will tell the story of these advances.