Randall Munroe is a programmer and former roboticist who created an incredibly popular webcomic called xkcd. The intelligence and wit of xkcd led to its huge success and massive fanbase. Unfortunately, Munroe’s fiancée was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer, as he describes in this post:
His comic “Lanes” illustrates the survival outcomes of the various stages of breast cancer. The prognosis is unnerving:
In his blog post, he writes about spending eight months researching cancer science. For someone as intelligent as Munroe, that time is probably the equivalent of another person spending years and years reading studies in oncology journals. I’m going to outline why I think he has a real chance to cure cancer, or at least make major strides in treating breast cancer (no pressure or anything!)
Munroe has succeeded in multiple fields. He was a roboticist at NASA. He runs one of the most successful sites in the world. He designed ROBOT9000, which has the potential to entirely change internet chat for the better. Munroe also has programming experience. The software engineers I’ve worked with are the smartest people I’ve ever met. When computer scientists enter other fields, they have the potential to totally remake and revitalize those areas of study (such as Aubrey De Grey did in biogerontology).
Munroe also has friendships with some of the smartest people in the world and a steady source of income via merchandise. Those are two of the most important elements in conducting medical research as a hobby – or even more importantly – as a mission. He is undoubtedly also under a lot of stress right now. Biomedical researchers and open source biology hobbyists support him all the way.
Steve Yegge is another software engineer who plans to start working on curing cancer. I’m not sure how serious he is. If he truly is serious, it’s great to have more smart people tackling challenging problems in medical research, especially Google engineers like him. He talks about it in this post:
I briefly tackled the topic of treating cancer in posts about ketogenic diets and medicinal spices and dandelion extract. But cancer is a very serious topic, and people need to be aware of therapies beyond nutrition and supplements. Pharmaceutical medications in the field of oncology have saved many lives. It’s important to rely on science-based medicine instead of anecdotes or in vitro studies.
Some ways to go about researching this topic on PubMed include:
• Using oncology terms to search for medical papers that have those words in the title, such as antitumor[title] OR “anti tumor”[title]
• Using MeSH terms to find medical studies, such as “Breast neoplasms/therapy”[MAJR]
I am betting that a roboticist and comic artist can analyze the topic in a way that builds on the work of thousands of oncologists. Maybe, just maybe, Randall Munroe will be the person to cure cancer.