Why we get cancer and why it has been so hard to cure (Event Details)

Speaker: Carlo Maley, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program, Systems Biology Division, The Wistar Institute

Location: Biodesign Auditorium

Date & Time: March 31, 2010 7:30 p.m.

Title: Why we get cancer and why it has been so hard to cure.

Abstract: The story of cancer begins approximately 1 billion years ago, with the rise of multicellular organisms. Before that point, there was no cancer. Afterwards, cancer was the central problem threatening the integrity of the body. Cancer has become a particular problem in developed countries. In the U.S., men have a 45% and women a 38% lifetime risk of developing cancer. Despite the enormous progress we have made in technology and medicine in the last 50 years, we have made almost no progress reducing deaths from cancer, even when we take into account changes in lifespan.

Why is cancer such a difficult problem to solve? Because cells in tumors evolve. Tumor cells mutate a high rates and compete for space and resources like oxygen. Mutant cells that can reproduce or survive better than their competitors tend to spread in a tumor. Thus, tumors are microcosms of natural selection. By the time we detect a tumor in the clinic, it contains billions of cells carrying tens of thousands of mutations. By chance, some of those mutant cells are often resistant to the anti-cancer drugs we use. The result is temporary remission followed by relapse with a resistant tumor. Therapeutic resistance is so common that attention has recently switched to detecting cancer early in its development when it is still easy to cut out, or preventing cancer altogether.

Carlo’s Biosketch: Carlo Maley is an assistant professor in the systems biology division of the molecular and cellular oncogenesis program at the Wistar Institute and part of the Seattle Barrett’s Esophagus Research Program. He is a member of the University of Pennsylvania genomics and computational biology graduate program as well as the cellular and molecular biology graduate program. He received an M.Sc. degree from the University of Oxford, studying evolutionary biology with W.D. Hamilton. He earned his Ph.D. in computational biology from MIT, working with Rodney Brooks and Michael Donoghue, and then moved into cancer biology as a postdoc with Stephanie Forrest at the University of New Mexico and as a staff scientist with Brian Reid at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. His research lies at the intersection of evolutionary biology, computational biology and cancer biology and includes both dry lab (computational) and wet lab (genetics of tumors and evolutionary tissue culture experiments) projects. He is interested in how cells evolve in neoplastic progression and in response to therapy with the goal of controlling that evolution to prevent cancer and therapeutic resistance.

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