727 E. Tyler St. Tempe
Cancer’s evolutionary roots can be traced by at least to the dawn of multicellularity 1.5 billion years ago. In that evolutionary context, cancer appears to be a type of atavism, or reversion to an ancestral phenotype, in which gain of function is really regain of deeply-embedded ancient functionalities. These capabilities, such as unrestrained proliferation, represent a strength of cancer that frustrates many therapeutic strategies. But reversion is also an Achilles heel, because cancer cells will lose more recently evolved functionalities, making them vulnerable to “modern” challenges, and opening the way to therapies based on targeting the weaknesses instead of the strengths. In this lecture I will describe how cancer decouples from the adaptive immune system, making tumors more susceptible to infection than healthy tissues – a fact that was well known a century ago, but has been widely forgotten.