Cancer research laboratories have historically studied tumors in vertebrate models, such as monkeys and mice, and in a few invertebrate species, like fruit flies. Only recently have scientists chosen to pursue cancer from a completely new perspective. Dr. Thomas Bosch and his colleagues at Germany’s Kiel University found that primitive multicellular organisms, called Hydra, also spontaneously develop tumor-like growths. Dr. Bosch boldly concluded that because cancer is as old as multicellular life on Earth, it will never be “completely eradicated.”

It is true that Hydra tumors share several characteristics with human tumors. Hydra tumor cells migrate, appear to be resistant to programmed cell death, and have different gene expression patterns than normal Hydra cells. Although the Bosch laboratory has yet to identify the genetic changes that cause Hydra tumor cells to behave abnormally, their data do successfully support the conservation of tumor formation throughout evolution, as well as the inherent nature of cancer development. Their findings also question whether the war that President Richard Nixon declared on cancer 43 years ago is really a losing battle.

Since the genes that contribute to cancer progression are found within our own cells, it is difficult to see how this disease could be entirely removed from the human population. In spite of this, there is no reason to lose hope for more effective cancer treatments. Science has already come a long way in the treatment of pediatric leukemia, and different technologies designed to help us unravel the complexity of cancer cell signaling networks are rapidly improving. Yes, humans will continue to be prone to cancer. However, by developing methods for early detection, identifying and limiting exposure to mutagenic agents, and discovering more about its origins, we will make important advancements towards controlling cancer, and help to prevent cancer from controlling the lives of so many people.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Silvia Escudero and Stéphane J. H. Ricoult from the Harvard Biological and Biological Sciences Program, and Katherine W. Rogers from the Harvard Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, for their expertise and detailed insights on the topic.

Managing Editor: Laura L. Smith

From “Cancer ‘as old as multi-cellular life on Earth’: Researchers discover a primordial cancer in a primitive animal” (original article here)

Photo credit (original image here)

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