Step into David Kritchevsky's irregularly shaped basement office at the University of Pennsylvania's Wistar Institute, and you'll immediately be able to tell that he's been there for a while. Two walls are covered with shelves containing textbooks on nutrition and cancer, old almanacs, the Holy Kabbalah, and The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter. A blue electric typewriter, set aside to make room for a new Apple computer on the counter, is half buried under newspapers, journals, and a red U of Penn baseball cap. The plaques and framed certificates wallpapering the two remaining walls include nods from the Hollywood Academy of Medicine, the American Association of Cereal Chemists, and the American Cancer Society, some dating back to 1962. Near eye level, across from the door, is a framed 1988 Cancer Research cover featuring a black and white photo of Kritchevsky.

Kritchevsky is one of only three US researchers to be...

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