'Survival of the Fittest' Seen in Cancer Cells as Well

by Rajashri on Aug 4 2008 3:55 PM

A new study suggests that cancer cells also follow Darwin's theory of evolution. While analysing a half million gene mutations, the researchers found that although different gene mutations control different cancer pathways, each pathway was controlled by only one set of gene mutations, suggesting that a molecular "survival of the fittest" also takes place in every living being as gene mutations struggle for ultimate survival through cancerous tumours.

The researchers hope that this new finding might lay a foundation for new cancer drugs and treatments.

"This study lays the groundwork for understanding the nature of different mutations in cancers and helps with understanding the mechanisms of cancers and their responses to drug treatments," said Chen-Hsiang Yeung, first author of the study.

During the study, the team looked at about 500,000 cancer mutation records from the Catalog of Somatic Mutations in Cancer database and then divided the data into 45 tissue types.

Within each tissue type, they calculated the frequency that multiple genes were mutated in the same sample and identified the frequencies of mutations that were significantly higher or lower than if the genes had mutated independently.

They further mapped out how these genes ultimately promote cancerous tumours and checked whether the genes occurring in specific tissues used the same or different cancer pathways.

"Little could Darwin have known that his 'Origin of the Species' would one day explain the 'Origin of the Tumour,'" said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.

"This research report completely changes our understanding of the many gene mutations that cause cancer," he added.

The report appears in FASEB Journal.