Conceptualizing cancer cells as ancient 'toolkit'

February 8, 2011

Despite decades of research and billions of dollars, cancer remains a major killer, with an uncanny ability to evade both the body’s defenses and medical intervention. Now an Arizona State University scientist believes he has an explanation.

“Cancer is not a random bunch of selfish rogue cells behaving badly, but a highly-efficient pre-programmed response to stress, honed by a long period of evolution,” claims professor Paul Davies, director of the BEYOND">">BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at ASU and principal investigator of a major research program funded by the National Cancer Institute designed to bring insights from physical science to the problem of cancer. Download Full Image

In a paper published online Feb. 7 in the UK Institute of Physics journal Physical">">Physical Biology, Davies and Charles Lineweaver from the Australian National University draw on their backgrounds in astrobiology to explain why cancer cells deploy so many clever tricks in such a coherent and organized way.

They say it’s because cancer revisits tried-and-tested genetic pathways going back a billion years, to the time when loose collections of cells began cooperating in the lead-up to fully developed multicellular life. Dubbed by the authors “Metazoa 1.0,” these early assemblages fell short of the full cell and organ differentiation associated with modern multicellular organisms – like humans.

But according to Davies and Lineweaver, the genes for the early, looser assemblages – Metazoa 1.0 – are still there, forming an efficient toolkit. Normally it is kept locked, suppressed by the machinery of later genes used for more sophisticated body plans. If something springs the lock, the ancient genes systematically roll out the many traits that make cancer such a resilient form of life – and such a formidable adversary.

“Tumors are a re-emergence of our inner Metazoan 1.0, a throwback to an ancient world when multicellular life was simpler,” says Davies. “In that sense, cancer is an accident waiting to happen.”

If Davies and Lineweaver are correct, then the genomes of the simplest multicellular organisms will hide clues to the way that cancer evades control by the body and develops resistance to chemotherapy. And their approach suggests that a limited number of genetic pathways are favored by cells as they become progressively genetically unstable and malignant, implying that cancer could be manageable by a finite suite of drugs in the coming era of personalized medicine.

“Our new model should give oncologists new hope because cancer is a limited and ultimately predictable atavistic adversary,” says Lineweaver. “Cancer is not going anywhere evolutionarily; it just starts up in a new patient the way it started up in the previous one.”

The authors also believe that the study of cancer can inform astrobiology. “It’s not a one-way street,” says Davies. “Cancer can give us important clues about the nature and history of life itself.”


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Chaney shines again to lead track & field in NM Classic

February 8, 2011

RESULTS: style="color: #444444;">New Mexico Classic & Multis (pdf) | style="color: #444444;">NAU Team Challenge (pdf)

The Arizona State University track and field team sent athletes to a pair of meets over the weekend and, once again, returned to the Valley of the Sun with numerous marks recorded that rank among the best in the nation as well as the best in school history. The Sun Devils competed at the New Mexico Classic and Multis on Friday and Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M., while a handful of throwers competed in the NAU Team Challenge in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Saturday. Download Full Image

Jasmine Chaney once again made a statement as she ran 23.22 in the 200m dash and 53.37 in the 400m dash, both of which are personal-bests and ranks second and third, respectively, in ASU history. Those times also currently rank her seventh and fifth, respectively, in the NCAA so far this year.

Also for the women, Keia Pinnick and Samantha Henderson went 1-2 in the pentathlon with both setting personal bests. Pinnick won the event with 3,908 points to rank 14th in the nation right now and second all-time in ASU history. Henderson scored 3,785 points to take second and post the third-best total in ASU history.

On the men’s side, rookie Bryan McBride recorded a best of 2.14m (7-00.25) to move into a tie for fifth on the all-time Sun Devil high jump list and become the seventh different ASU man to clear 7-feet in competition.

For full results of the weekend, click on the links above.

Next weekend, a majority of the Sun Devils will travel to College Station, Texas, on Saturday to compete in the Texas A&M Conference Challenge inside Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium, the host site of the 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships. Several Sun Devils will head to Flagstaff on Friday and Saturday for the Mountain ‘T’ Invitational.

Weekend Review - Week 2
Top 10 Marks in ASU History Recorded this Weekend
New Mexico Classic & Multis (Friday-Saturday)
Jasmine Chaney - 23.22 (first place) in the 200m dash (#2 in ASU history) & 53.37 (second) in 400m dash (#3 in ASU history)
Samantha Henderson - 3,785 points (second place) in pentathlon (#3 in ASU history)
Dominique’ Maloy - 7.48 (third place) in 60m dash final (#5 in ASU history)
Keia Pinnick - 3,908 points (first place) in pentathlon (#2 in ASU history)

John Kline - 1:17.38 (first place) in 600m run (national leader/non-NCAA event)
Bryan McBride - 2.14m/7-00.25 (third place) in high jump (t-#5 in ASU history/7th man to clear 7-feet in program history)
Austin Prince - 4,900 points (fifth place) in heptathlon (#4 in ASU history)

Northern Arizona Team Challenge (Saturday)
Anna Jelmini - 15.89m/52-01.75 (second place) in shot put (#5 in ASU history)
Ashley Lampley - 17.21m/56-05.75 (third place) in weight throw (#6 in ASU history)
Cj Navarro - 16.83m/55-02.75 (fourth place) in weight throw (#7 in ASU history)

Jordan Clarke - 18.76m/61-06.75 (second place) in weight throw (#5 in ASU history)