Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Back from Scotland and Gatenby's talk

I am back from sunny Scotland in sunny Saxony. Of the remaining speakers in Dundee, the one whose talk I was looking for the most was the one from Robert Gatenby, Arizona University (as with Vito Quaranta, a life scientist).

I know the work of Gatenby because he is one of the few researchers involved in using evolutionary game theory (although not of the most conventional, fitness-and-payoff-table kind) to study cancer evolution. Specifically he is working on how acidity due to glycolysis (the anaerobic metabolism that constitutes and advantage for tumour cells that lack oxygen due to the distance to a blood vessel) is a necessary step in the evolution towards cancer. The so called Warburg effect is the result of a well known biochemical mechanism but, what is the evolutionary advantage?

As he has shown in other papers, the advantage for glycolytic cells is that the poison the environment of other cells so they face less competition. They also degrade the connective tissue and thus increase the motility of cells, which is a required step for a tumour to become invasive. From my point of view it is interesting that he seemed to imply that this acidification of the microenvironment is not only a facilitator for cancer but a necessary step. I guess that Hanahan and Weinberg could include this in the section for mechanisms for invasion and metastasis.

From the therapeutic point of view, his research suggests that either alkalising the microenvironment (to counteract the progressive acidification resulting from the glycolytic metabolism) or making it even more acidic by reducing the pH in the blood (and thus contributing to self poisoning of glycolytic cells) would be something worth trying.