ASU physicist Paul Davies seeks cancer cell control switch
February 09, 2012
Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist, wrote a first-person account of his work in cancer research that appeared in the Feb. 7 print edition of the Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom.
Writing as director of the Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology at Arizona State University, Davies notes: “Cancer is such a formidable adversary because it is a fundamental part of the story of life itself, and I believe it can be properly understood only by seeing the grand evolutionary picture.”
Davies, better known as a cosmologist and astrobiologist, has published research that ranges from how black holes radiate energy and what caused the ripples in the cosmic afterglow of the big bang, to why life on Earth may have come from Mars.
He writes in the Telegraph how he added cancer to his research portfolio after a call from the deputy director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI). “[She] talked about the glacial pace of clinical progress and her frustration that, even with some of the world’s finest minds involved, no light could be discerned at the end of the tunnel,” Davies writes. “Her question to me was: ‘Can physicists help?’”
Davies writes that he explained his career was focused on quantum mechanics, cosmology, black holes and that he knew nothing about cancer. According to the account, her response was that it didn’t matter. “Physicists, she pointed out, think about the world in a distinctive way. They have elucidated the secrets of the atom and probed the farthest reaches of the cosmos, and have a good track record at cracking tough, complex problems. It was not so much new technology that she was after, but insight from our problem-solving approach.”
Nearly four years later, Davies leads one of 12 NCI-funded physical sciences-oncology centers in the United States.
“By connecting the dots of evolutionary, developmental and cancer biology, we have come to view cancer not so much as a disease to be cured as a condition to be controlled,” writes Davies in the Telegraph piece.
He and Charles Lineweaver of the Australian National University published a theory of cancer last year “based on the concept that it is an evolutionary throwback to our earliest ancestors. … [We] have proposed that cancer results from an accidental reawakening of the earliest metazoan genes, the ones programmed to build the sort of structures that inhabited Earth millions of years ago.
“If Lineweaver and I are right, and a special cassette of ancient genes drives the basic behaviour of cancer, then we will have a well-defined target for therapy,” Davies writes. “The challenge is to find a way to seize control of the cassette’s operating system and tweak it to do our bidding.”
Access Davies' complete article, “The final frontier in the war on cancer,” below.
Daily Telegraph, U.K.
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