Prof focuses on cancer prevention

The New York Times best-selling author, featured TED speaker and one of the world’s leading cancer doctors and researchers are just a few of the ways to describe Dr. David Agus.

A Trojan since 2009, Agus is the director of the USC Norris Westside Cancer Center, director of the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine, professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and professor of engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering. Though Agus is currently recognized as the authority on cancer research and treatment — having served as doctor for the likes of Steve Jobs, Lance Armstrong and Ted Kennedy — it was space exploration that inspired him to study science.

“I grew up during the Space Age when there was a lot of competition between the U.S. and Russia, and after the Russians sent the Sputnik to space, the government embarked on a major science education initiative,” he said. “Thus at a young age I caught the ‘science bug’ and decided I wanted to pursue a career in medicine.”

After graduating cum laude from Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology, Agus earned his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and did his residency at Johns Hopkins University.

Agus said he decided to specialize in oncology because it allows him to directly apply what is done in the lab to the lives of real patients. According to Agus, the nature of his field forces him to be innovative, especially in treating late-stage cancer patients.

“In this field, you are able to take risks,” Agus said.

In addition to being a conventional doctor, Agus is on the front lines of developing ways to integrate technology into the fight against cancer. In 2006, he co-founded Navigenics, a company that provides people with their individual genetic information, allowing them to see their predispositions to certain diseases and to take appropriate preventative measures. He also founded, the Internet’s largest cancer resource and community.

Agus is a firm believer that the fight against cancer must focus on prevention.

“It must be a ‘ground up’ movement and start with individuals,” Agus said. “My book, The End of Illness, is an anthem of that.”

In The End of Illness, which spent over a month as The New York Times No. 1 bestseller after its January release, Agus argues that the key to curing cancer is preventing it in the first place. According to Fortune magazine, Agus calls for a completely new approach to medicine.

“I want doctors to treat toward health and not treat toward disease,” he said.

Agus said some simple ways to prevent cancer and other diseases include taking baby aspirin every day, keeping consistently active by walking from place to place and keeping a regular meal schedule.

“If you eat lunch at noon one day, but then 2 p.m. the next, your body releases stress hormones that make you up to 80 percent more likely to contract diabetes,” he said.

Though Agus is an internationally recognized figure who has done extensive work with many organizations and institutions, he said the opportunities and resources afforded him at USC are perfect for his work.

“I am all about the convergence of multiple sciences in developing technology for health care and USC is one of the only places where you can do that. The emphasis USC places on multi-disciplinary study and work is perfect for what I do,” Agus said. “USC was built on a long-term vision of changing the world and that’s what I’m about.”