ASU physicist merges scientific fields to understand cancer's origin
A new theory for the origin of cancer from Arizona State University cosmologist Paul Davies and colleagues is the product of the unlikely coupling of physics and biomedical science.
Seven years ago, Davies set up the Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology at ASU with the hope of gaining a new perspective on the disease. “We were asked to rethink cancer from the bottom up,” he says.
Davies’ and his team have since proposed an “atavistic,” or ancestral, model of cancer in which the disease is thought to be “the re-expression of an ancient ‘preprogrammed’ trait that has been lying dormant.”
The theory posits that cancer is a cell’s reaction to its health being threatened by any number of lifestyle or environmental factors. In a misguided attempt to survive, the cell reverts back to a “preprogrammed safe mode” that allows it to proliferate, unchecked.
“Cancer is a fail-safe,” Davies remarks. “Once the subroutine is triggered, it implements its program ruthlessly.”
However exciting this new theory may be, some scientists are skeptical. “The ‘predictions’ of atavism are nothing that scientists haven’t come to by other paths,” remarked David Gorski, a surgical oncologist at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
But Davies and his colleagues have already begun answering such criticisms with more direct testing of their theory.