A new study explored the ways in which cancers bypass the protective mechanisms used by multicellular forms to ensure their survival.
Cancer has the capacity for rapid evolution which continues to thwart the best clinical efforts to control it.
The study took about a year of collaborative work between evolutionary biologists and cancer biologists. The findings were reported in a special comparative oncology issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B.
The study identified five foundations of multicellularity; maintenance factors present in all multicellular organisms. Cancer is successful at eluding all five foundations which researchers effectively described as “cheating” the multicellular regime for the cancer’s own benefit. These cheating methods tend to be disastrous for the organism.
The five foundations are: inhibiting cell proliferation, regulation of cell death, division of labor, resource transport and creation and maintenance of the extracellular environment. Without these mechanisms, multicellular organisms could not have evolved into the endless forms researchers are aware of. Such cooperative mechanisms are essential for the proper function and survival of many multicellular forms, from fungi to humans. The conception of the five foundations builds on decades of work in the field of multicellularity evolution.
The current examination of cancer and cancer-like phenomena across the spectrum of multicellular lie is the first of its kind. It provides researchers with a picture of cancer incidence across life in addition to clues about how multicellular controls are cheated by aberrant cells.
These insights may point to better methods of diagnosing and treating cancer.
In order to ensure cooperation and coordination of multicellular components, all organisms have evolved sophisticated cancer suppression mechanisms to keep cells in check and ensure they are acting in concert.
Cancer cells are able to break free of this multicellular tyranny over their behavior. Research and clinical practice has focused primarily on the first two of the five foundations of the multicellular framework. In both cases, cancer appears capable of short-circuiting the built-in multicellular constraints, exhibiting the unchecked proliferation and growth characteristics of cancerous tumors.
This study is a call to action for the evolutionary biology, comparative genomic and evolution of multicellularity communities to come together an collect data which will allow researchers to answer some of these big questions about cancer suppression.