Christopher Hitchens, the atheist writer dying of esophageal cancer, has turned to an unlikely source as he tries to beat back death: evangelical doctor Francis Collins, the former director of the National Human Genome Project.
In that role, Collins was part of a team that mapped out the entire human DNA sequence, hopeful that doing so would bring scientists closer to cures for diseases like cancer. These days, Collins is testing out a new cancer treatment on his intellectual rival, Hitchens. Collins is the author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
Hitchens, the author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, is set to be a "guinea pig in the new science of genome sequencing as a possible cure for cancer," according to London's Daily Telegraph.
"It is a rather wonderful relationship," Hitchens says of his friendship with Collins. The two have publicly debated religion before and are good friends.
How will this experimental procedure work? First, Collins has already mapped out Hitchens' entire DNA sequence. Then:
On each sample six billion DNA matches were run, in order to catalogue the mutations in the cancerous cells which had given Hitchens cancer of the oesophagus.
Then in the New Year Dr Collins found a mutation and went about tackling the DNA directly.
He discovered that a drug already existed to treat the particular mutation and now Hitchens takes just one tablet a day, rather than undergoing grueling chemotherapy.
"These are early stages, but in theory it should attack the primary site of the tumour," Hitchens said.
For the sake of Hitchens--and the world of cancer treatment at large--here's hoping that Collins' therapy works.
Watch Hitchens discuss cancer and god in this clip from CNN:
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