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What do zebra mussels and cancer cells have in common? Researchers consider each invasive forces. About ten years ago, oncologists recast cancer in evolutionary terms to reimagine how to treat it. Oncologists Kenneth Pienta explains why that’s made a difference.

Listen and learn

  • How researchers apply the principals of evolutionary biology and ecology to cancer,
  • Why an advanced prostate cancer metastasis is like an unchecked invasive species,
  • Why the discovery of a cancer cell exhibiting hibernating-like behavior in a prostate cancer microenvironment is significant, and
  • How this discovery might inform the latest treatment for prostate cancer.

Ten million people die worldwide from cancer every year and Dr. Kenneth Pienta and his team are working to change that. Kenneth Pienta is a professor at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Urology, Oncology, Pharmacology, and Molecular Sciences. His research interests include novel therapeutics and the “ecology of cancer,” and he helps listeners understand how both these concepts will hopefully save lives. His specific focus is prostate cancer treatment and prostate cancer diagnosis, but many of his findings apply to the ecology of all cancers.

He describes one particularly exciting find: they discovered special cancer cells called poly‐aneuploid cancer cells (PACCs): the cells enter a hibernating-like state when they are stressed, such as when treated with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy only kills dividing cells and these cells have stopped dividing, effectively evading death. Once the stress discontinues, they begin dividing again and spreading. Peinta and his colleagues think this explains cancer treatment resistance.

He helps listeners understand how this might inform new treatments and outlines three specific approaches they are taking. Along the way, he describes how the body’s response—the release of growth factors and substances that lead to conditions like wasting syndrome and other metastatic prostate cancer symptoms—are what make cancer so deadly. Therefore some of the approaches examine meeting the body’s response.

For more, see his web page: https://www.kennethjpienta.com/

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK

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