Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cancer is a result of a default cellular 'safe mode,' physicist proposes

01.07.2013
With death rates from cancer have remained largely unchanged over the past 60 years, a physicist is trying to shed more light on the disease with a very different theory of its origin that traces cancer back to the dawn of multicellularity more than a billion years ago.

In this month's special issue of Physics World devoted to the "physics of cancer", Paul Davies, principal investigator at Arizona State University's Center for Convergence of Physical Sciences and Cancer Biology, explains his radical new theory.

Davies was brought in to lead the centre in 2009 having almost no experience in cancer research whatsoever. With a background in theoretical physics and cosmology, he was employed to bring fresh, unbiased eyes to the underlying principles of the disease.

He has since raised questions that are rarely asked by oncologists: thinking about why cancer exists at all and what place it holds in the grand story of life on Earth.

His new theory, drawn together with Charles Lineweaver of the Australian National University, suggests that cancer is a throwback to an ancient genetic "sub-routine" where the mechanisms that usually instruct cells when to multiply and die malfunctions, thus forcing the cells to revert back to a default option that was programmed into their ancestors long ago.

"To use a computer analogy, cancer is like Windows defaulting to 'safe mode' after suffering an insult of some sort," Davies writes.

The result of this malfunction is the start of a cascade of events that we identify as cancer – a runaway proliferation of cells that form a tumour, which eventually becomes mobile itself, spreading to other parts of the body and invading and colonizing.

Orthodox explanations suppose that cancer results from an accumulation of random genetic mutations, with the cancer starting from scratch each time it manifests; however, Davies and Lineweaver believe it is caused by a set of genes that have been passed on from our very early ancestors and are "switched on" in the very early stages of an organism's life as cells differentiate into specialist forms.

The pair suggests that the genes that are involved in the early development of the embryo – and that are silenced, or switched off, thereafter – become inappropriately reactivated in the adult as a result of some sort of trigger or damage, such as chemicals, radiation or inflammation.

"Very roughly, the earlier the embryonic stage, the more basic and ancient will be the genes guiding development, and the more carefully conserved and widely distributed they will be among species," Davies writes.

Several research teams around the world are currently providing experimental evidence that shows the similarities between the expression of genes in a tumour and an embryo, adding weight to Davies and Lineweaver's theory.

Davies makes it clear that radical new thinking is needed; however, just like ageing, he states that cancer cannot generally be cured but can be mitigated, which we can only do when we better understand the disease, and its place in the "great sweep of evolutionary history".

This month's special issue of Physics World can be downloaded free of charge from 1 July 2013 at http://www.physicsworld.com/cws/download/jul2013.

Please mention Physics World as the source of these items and, if publishing online, please include a hyperlink to: http://physicsworld.com.

Notes for editors:

1. Physics World is the international monthly magazine published by the Institute of Physics. For further information or details of its editorial programme, please contact the editor, Dr Matin Durrani, tel +44 (0)117 930 1002. The magazine's website physicsworld.com is updated regularly and contains daily physics news and regular audio and video content. Visit http://physicsworld.com.

2. For copies of the articles reviewed here contact Mike Bishop, IOP press officer, tel +44 (0)11 7930 1032, e-mail michael.bishop@iop.org.

3. The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society. We are a charitable organization with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application.

We engage with policy-makers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics and, through IOP Publishing, we are world leaders in professional scientific communications. Visit us at http://www.iop.org.

Joseph Winters | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.iop.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Extremely fine measurements of motion in orbiting supermassive black holes
28.06.2017 | Stanford University

nachricht Ultra-compact phase modulators based on graphene plasmons
27.06.2017 | ICFO-The Institute of Photonic Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Extensive Funding for Research on Chromatin, Adrenal Gland, and Cancer Therapy

28.06.2017 | Awards Funding

Predicting eruptions using satellites and math

28.06.2017 | Earth Sciences

Extremely fine measurements of motion in orbiting supermassive black holes

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>