Echoes

On Jana Šmardová’s publication

Prof. J. Šmardová’s very readable book offers an unconventional view of tumors and biology in general. She views the organism as a community of cells that develop and fulfill their function in a given time and space for the maximum benefit of the whole system. Tumors arise from cells that violate the basic rules of coexistence and cooperation. The book describes the typical features that distinguish tumors from healthy tissue. The author asks whether these features and rules are a reflection of more general principles that form the basis for the smooth functioning of complex living systems. She even asks whether tumors can be learned or inspired for the good functioning of human society.

Dr. Eduard Kejnovský, Ph.D., Institute of Biophysics, Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic

I have many excerpts from the book and the parallels in the behavior of cells and humans trigger a firework of further thoughts and considerations, I will come back to it often. Thank you very much for your book and for writing it, and for writing it so beautifully.

Dr. Marek Vácha, Ph.D.

The book is so elegantly written that it can be read from the first to the last page in one sitting. The overlaps that the book contains after each specialized chapter are a source of wisdom and show the incredible erudition of this first lady of Masaryk University.

Zdenka Andrýsková, MSc.

My encounters with Jana were very brief, but I got to know her as a wonderful person full of humility, empathy and kindness. Jana’s eyes radiated joy, insight and incredible receptivity, and their books and articles exuded logic, talent and a great desire to solve causalities and learn the truth. Her legacy will always be with us.

Prof. Libuše Trnková, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University

For me, Professor Šmardová will always be not only my doctoral supervisor, but above all a spiritual mentor who kindly opened the door to the study of tumor biology and encouraged my desire to “see beneath the surface of things”. Without prejudice against my ignorance and naivety, she taught me to carefully perceive and interpret biological relationships, which is so beautifully and extremely aptly summarized in her book “What Tumors Teach Us.” Whenever I pick up the book and start reading again, I feel transported back to the time of our joint meetings and undogmatic debates, of which the “orange” part of the book reminds me a lot. Not every student is lucky enough to have the kind of guidance I had. The others can only be guided by this textbook of context, which I highly recommend reading. I consider the “blue” knowledge and “orange” insights essential for anyone interested in tumor biology and willing to look at the subject with an open mind and from different perspectives.

This book is a matter close to my heart and at the same time a vehicle that connects two worlds – the factual-scientific and the intuitive-human.

Jiřina Procházková, Ph.D., Institute of Biophysics, Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic

I worked for a long time with Professor Jana Šmardová on analyzing the TP53 gene in cancer patients. I learned about the concept of the book “What Tumors Teach” several years before it was actually written. I remember that Jana was hesitant about whether her planned concept was feasible and that she was particularly worried about the reactions of her colleagues, as she was well aware that science is based on rigorous work with data and not on free thinking and reflection. Today, however, it’s clear that she made the right decision and readers can be happy that her interesting, readable and inspiring book has been written. The scientific part alone is an extremely solid textbook of world-class general and molecular oncology. Social Intersections is original food for thought that will motivate any thoughtful person to reflect on our behavior and consider critical aspects of life. I’m always pleased when I hear from a reader outside the field saying that it’s a “really good book”.

doc. Mgr. Martin Trbušek, Dr.

In What Tumors Teach Us, Jana Šmardová mines molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and finds compelling insights applicable to human behavior and our social pathologies. Cheating and selfishness are traits of tumor cells. These same traits underlie so many social ills, such as poverty, homelessness, addiction, hatred, racism, violence. Vigilance and layers of responsibility are required to maintain a healthy human society, as are layers of cooperation and generosity. Šmardová realizes that oncogenesis is an inevitable – in a sense normal – feature of human biology that share features in common with other complex systems, including human society. Despite living with advancing cancer as she wrote this remarkable book, Šmardová’s message is hopeful. She calls for vigilance and responsibility in service of human society and life. Contemporary social ills, such as poverty, homelessness, addiction, hatred, racism, violence are also sustained by failures of cooperation and flagrant sins of cheating and selfishness.

Ira Byock, MD, Emeritus Professor, Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, author of Dying Well and The Best Care Possible

This captivating book embarks on an intriguing journey that intertwines the cellular biology of cancer with the complexities of human behavior. In “What Tumors Teach Us: Parallels in Cell and Human Behavior,” Jana Smardová achieves a remarkable intellectual feat by explaining the current understanding of cellular organization within complex organisms and, at the same time, drawing insightful parallels to our individual experiences. The book is structured into chapters that skillfully alternate between specific aspects of cellular biology and their corresponding manifestations in human behavior.

Smardová’s exploration of cancer is presented in clear, accessible language, supported by well-illustrated schematics, making it comprehensible to readers with a basic knowledge of biology. Meanwhile, her analyses of human behavior take readers on a journey through unexpected and thought-provoking connections across various facets of human existence, encompassing history, politics, nature, personal relationships, religion, art, and philosophy. It is an intellectually gratifying book that will please curious readers with a diverse range of interests. Through this narrative, the book effectively conveys a sense of underlying unity that transcends disparate scales of life, offering both information and inspiration.

Manuel Serrano, PhD, Altos Labs, Cambridge, UK

This is a very well-written thought-provoking book on an interesting and timely topic. During the past forty years, remarkable scientific progress has been made to arrive at our current understanding of cancer at the molecular, cellular, tissue, and organismal levels. The author does an excellent job of explaining where the field currently stands using easily accessible language and very clear illustrations. In brief, multi-cellular organisms depend on the cooperative behavior and carefully orchestrated division of labor among very large numbers of constituent cells (>10E13 in the human body). Cancer arises when an individual cell no longer honors this social contract and instead behaves solely as a self-interested entity. This requires breaking the “rules” that govern cooperative behavior and evading systems that have evolved to prevent this.

However, this book goes far beyond a description of what we know about cancer by asking the very interesting question, “What can tumors teach us?” The author alternates chapters discussing the principles of cancer biology with chapters in which these principles are applied by analogy to other fields including sociology, psychology, and political science. These discussions of “overlaps” are wide-ranging and draw interesting and at times compelling analogies between the origins and behaviors (phenotypes) of cancer cells and some of the most pressing current problems confronting people in post-industrial societies. I am reminded of the many unexpected applications of the theory of evolution, originally derived from studies of biological speciation, in a variety of fields including economics, political science, sociology, and artificial intelligence.

Joseph Lipsick, MD, Professor of Pathology and Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, USA

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