By Science Daily
Every year millions of people around the world are diagnosed with cancer. Each one of them dreams of a victory in the battle against it. But can cancer ever be completely defeated? Researchers at Kiel University (CAU) in Germany have now reached a sobering conclusion: “cancer is as old as multi-cellular life on earth and will probably never be completely eradicated,” says Professor Thomas Bosch in his latest research results.
The study by an international team led by Bosch was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
The so-called cancer genes are ancient
The causes of tumors are the so-called cancer genes. As from when evolution started producing tumors is an issue that the scientists Tomislav Domazet-Lošo and Diethard Tautz from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön have been investigating for several years, using bio-informational methods and databases that they have developed in-house. “During the search for the origin of the cancer gene, we unexpectedly made a discovery in the ancient group of animals,” explains Domazet-Lošo. He is one of the authors of the present study and is currently working at the Ruder Bošković Institute and the Catholic University of Croatia in Zagreb. “Our data predicted that the first multi-cellular animals already had most of the genes which can cause cancer in humans.” What was missing until now was, on the one hand, evidence that these animals can actually suffer from tumors and, on the other, the molecular understanding of the mechanisms of tumor formation in these simple animals.
Cause of tumors: error in the programming of cell death
The research team led by the evolutionary biologist Professor Thomas Bosch from the Zoological Institute of Kiel University have now achieved an impressive understanding of the roots of cancer. Bosch has been investigating stem cells and the regulation of tissue growth in Hydra, a phylogenetic old polyp, for many years. “Now we have discovered tumor-bearing polyps in two different species of Hydra, an organism very similar to corals,” emphasises Bosch regarding the first result of the new study. This provides proof that tumors indeed exist in primitive and evolutionary old animals.
The team also tracked down the cellular cause of the tumors along the entire body axis. For the first time they were able to show that the stem cells, which are programmed for sex differentiation, accumulate in large quantities and are not removed naturally by programmed cell death. Interestingly, these tumors affect only female Hydra polyps and resemble ovarian cancers in humans.