Cancer: cooperation is good also for the bad guys

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FromÂ :

“An analysis of how cells in a tumour cooperate has provided a unique insight into the evolution of cancer, and may lead to new treatments.

It makes use of “game theory” – the mix of mathematics and economics theory that has been invaluable in understanding how cooperation can evolve in animal societies, even when individuals are selfish.

Robert Axelrod, a political scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, US, a leader in applying game theory to evolutionary biology, has now turned his attention to cancer.

Since every cancer cell within a tumour is different, with different mutations and needs, each of these cells can be thought of as a “playerâ€? in a game theory sense, Axelrod says.”


““It’s well established that tumour cells grow by diffusing growth factors into the neighbouring tissue,â€? says Axelrod. Some cells lack the “full deckâ€? of mutations necessary to produce all the growth factors, overcome host defences and become independently malignant.

But cells can aid each other by complementing the missing growth signals. A cell that promotes blood vessel growth to the tumour will also benefit other pre-cancerous cells.

“It’s Adam Smith’s old idea that if people cooperate it’s easier to get the job done,â€? Axelrod says, referring to the 18th-century philosopher. “Cooperation is thought of as a good thing, and cancer bad. It may be the reason why no one has thought of putting the two together.â€?”

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