With the release of his first book, The End of Illness, on Tuesday, Dr. David Agus, a professor in the Viterbi School of Engineering and the Keck School of Medicine, hopes to make strides in understanding health and in calling for health care reform.
The End of Illness calls for increasing preventative medicine. Agus said this concept comes from his dual training, which allows him to view health problems from the perspective of the body as a whole, rather than looking at specific systems.
“I am a cancer doctor, so I look at people in the face every day and I say, ‘I don’t have any more drugs to treat you’ … and so we really brought the idea that we have to push to prevent disease,” Agus said.
Agus calls his book a comprehensive new look at health.
“[The book goes] through all the data and complications of vitamins,” Agus said. “It talks about … going from aspirin to statin to how they can dramatically lower your rate of inflammation and thereby heart disease and cancer.”
As a professor of medicine and engineering, Agus gauges his two specialties to provide a unique insight to health.
“Biologists try to understand one single pathway and then try to understand everything, whereas engineers realize [there are] complex systems you can’t always understand,” Agus said. “So, thinking like an engineer about medicine really is a whole new way of approaching it.”
Aside from continuing to run the USC Westside Prostate Cancer Center in Beverly Hills, Agus has begun looking toward his next project.
“The modeling that we talk about in the book, we have received a large grant from the National Cancer Institute to really apply that to cancer; to use the principles — the physics and math — to approach cancer,” Agus said.
Since the release of the book, Agus has made appearances on Nightline and Good Morning America.
“The Nightline reporter came to USC to see me last Friday, and he was a 34-year-old guy … healthy, skinny and exercises all the time,” Agus said. “We looked at his genetics, and it [turned] out he was at higher risk for heart disease. So, we did a heart scan, and it turned out he had heart disease.”
The lack of Americans who proactively try to prevent disease is a problem, Agus said.
“The problem with most health care is that you wait until you’re sick before you seek it,” Agus said. “I want to move health care to the prevention mode; I want to prevent people from getting illnesses.”
In his laboratory on the Health Sciences Campus, Agus and his team are working on developing a more comparable marker from one person to the next.
“Right now, we don’t have a universal marker for health — that’s a problem,” Agus said.