Based at the Moffitt Cancer Center, Florida, Cancer Ecology is a small research group led by David Basanta. We are mathematical modellers who work with biologists and clinicians, trying to understand the ecology of tumors and the evolutionary dynamics of cancer progression and resistance to treatment.

Mercenary immune cells can fight your cancer

Work in Lyon went quite well and asides from making sense of some data we welcomed a physician on board our project. Also I got to learn more about a project in which my collaborator in Lyon, Benjamin Ribba, is involved. I got to know about ETOILE (French for star), the project in which hadron therapy will be used to treat some specific patients. This type of therapy works in a similar way to radiotherapy but can be controlled so it affects only the part of the tissue affected by the tumour. For reasons that I still ignore it is mainly used in very young or older patients and requires fairly sophisticated (as in expensive and big) installations.

Also this week I found this piece of news reported at the BBC’s website about research by scientists at Wake Forest show how white blood cells (granulocytes) from one person can help treat a cancer in a different one. Interestingly the article mentions that granulocytes (which according to wikipedia that refers in many cases to neutrophils) are not normally thought to be relevant in cancer research. That should support the research of people (Antonio Bru at UCM comes to mind here) studying how the non adaptive part of the immune system (neutrophils) could be leveraged as a cancer therapy.

A second interesting finding is that the granulocyte count in patients with cancer is lower than in healthy people and that even in that case this number changes in the year with higer counts in the spring/summer and lower in the autumn/winter. Could it be that (and I not claiming it is my idea, I heard it before) a tumour is more likely to start when the immune system is depressed?

It is also interesting that this researchers found how (at least in mice) to transplant cancer-fighting granulocytes from one individual to another. Since different people have different immune systems that could imply that we could use our own diversity as a species to fight tumours, whose growth could be explained as cells taking advantage of somatic evolution

Evolution in the individual

Microenvironment and somatic evolution