How to ruin cancer’s day

Chi Van Dang generally declines to discuss the science that made him famous.

A leading authority on cancer metabolism, he routinely is asked to speak about how tumors reprogram biochemical pathways to help them slurp up nutrients and how disrupting these noxious adaptations could be a powerful approach to treating cancer.

Instead of doing so, Dang uses his soapbox at every research meeting, lecture and blue-ribbon panel to advocate for something else: a simple yet radical tweak to how oncologists administer cancer drugs.

The approach, known as chrono­therapy, involves timing delivery of drugs to minimize side effects while maximizing effectiveness. The idea is to synchronize therapy with the body’s natural 24-hour rhythms — the circadian clock — and striking when cancer cells are most vulnerable or when healthy cells are least sensitive to toxicity (or, ideally, both).

Dang didn’t set out to become an ambassador for this field. But as scientific director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, a nonprofit that funds cancer labs worldwide, and chair of the board of scientific advisers at the National Cancer Institute, he finds himself in a powerful position to reshape the research agenda — and he believes chronotherapy’s time has come.

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