Kathryn Hunt


Kathryn Hunt
[Photo by Alexis Facca]

For digging into the history of cancer.

Kathryn Hunt

“The year I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer–which is now in remission–I’d just gotten back from an expedition to Egypt, where I was looking at bones. There were quite a few individuals who had evidence of a sort of bone disease, but because of my diagnosis, I started to think about it on another level. There are all of these subtle references to cancer in ancient literature. Why aren’t we seeing it in the bones?

“There wasn’t a lot of evidence because people didn’t know what to look for. It lit my fire. A few years ago, a few colleagues and I put together the Paleo-oncology Research Organization, and I’ve collected more than 230 cases of evidence of cancer in ancient societies. Now we’re making an open-source database with interactive maps and forums where researchers can discuss and share information. In April, we brought 10 of them together for the first time to strategize.

“Our next step will be getting funding to look at individuals who might have had cancer–doing a radiological analysis and potentially a DNA analysis. If we can trace the global history of cancer, we might be able to identify patterns. Patterns don’t necessarily tell you facts, but they do indicate areas to focus on.”

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.