New York Times covers cellular cheaters who give rise to cancer

New York Times covers cellular cheaters who give rise to cancer

August 11, 2015

August 11, 2015

New York Times contributing science writer George Johnson recently wrote about a new view of cancer as a philanderer. The article covered the work of Athena Aktipis and her international colleagues as they explored how cancer's cheating ways pays dividends for its own benefit---host be damned. 

In his monthly New York Times "Raw Data" column, Johnson writes: 

"Maybe it was in “some warm little pond,” Charles Darwin speculated in 1871, that life on Earth began. A few simple chemicals sloshed together and formed complex molecules. These, over great stretches of time, joined in various combinations, eventually giving rise to the first living cell: a self-sustaining bag of chemistry capable of dividing and spawning copies of itself.

While scientists still debate the specifics, most subscribe to some version of what Darwin suggested— genesis as a fortuitous chemical happenstance. But the story of how living protoplasm emerged from lifeless matter may also help explain something darker: the origin of cancer.

As the primordial cells mutated and evolved, ruthlessly competing for nutrients, some stumbled upon a different course. They cooperated instead, sharing resources and responsibilities and so giving rise to multicellular creatures — plants, animals and eventually us.

Each of these collectives is held together by a delicate web of biological compromises. By surrendering some of its autonomy, each cell prospers with the whole.

But inevitably, there are cheaters: A cell breaks loose from the interlocking constraints and begins selfishly multiplying and expanding its territory, reverting to the free-for-all of Darwin’s pond. And so cancer begins."

Read the rest of the article in the New York Times

Read the original press release feature by Biodesign science writer Richard Harth

The group’s findings appeared in a special comparative oncology issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B.


Written by: Joe Caspermeyer