Cooperation in cancer research

13 April 2011

Dr Guy Lyons' theory of cell cooperation could revolutionise cancer research and therapy.
Dr Guy Lyons' theory of cell cooperation could revolutionise cancer research and therapy.

A theory of cell cooperation in cancer has earned two University of Sydney researchers a 2011 Human Frontiers of Science Program Grant.

Dr Guy Lyons from Sydney Medical School has proposed a theory of cell cooperation in cancer where two or more mutant clones interact to enhance each other's growth and survival and together make up malignant tissue.

Along with Associate Professor Mary Myerscough from the University of Sydney's School of Mathematics and Statistics and Dr Silvio Gutkind of the National Institutes of Health, USA, Dr Lyons will work to identify mutations in microscopic parts of human tumours and use new types of genetically engineered mice to determine how often tumours arise from two or more clones.

Dr Lyons says cancers occur when key genes in cells become mutated, often as a result of exposure to carcinogenic chemicals or radiation.

"The cancer-causing mutations enable those cells to proliferate out of control, forming a tumour, and to spread through the patient's body where they can form secondary tumours."

Conventional theory says that several mutations accumulate over time in a single lineage, or "clone" of cells, which has all of the mutations necessary to be cancerous.

"But research over many years has shown that often more than one clone persists in cancers, and the different clones have different mutations. If more than one clone persists, why should only one be active? And if more than one is active, how do they interact?" states Dr Lyons.

"Clones from multi-clone tumours can be separated, grown in flasks and then recombined to find what characteristics produce strong cooperation between clones that leads to malignancy," he suggests.

The group will also use computer simulation models of cancer to explore how cancers behave and how they will respond to therapy. The outcome will be a new genetic paradigm for cancer that could revolutionise cancer research and therapy.

The Human Frontiers of Science program encourages interdisciplinary and international collaborative research in innovative science.

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