Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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A Primordial Malignancy
29 October 2014

A Primordial Malignancy

The discovery of cancerous cells in an ancient organism known as a Hydra polyp has important ramifications for the treatment of cancer. Afflicted Hydra were found to develop invasive tumours – pictured (right) next to a healthy counterpart (left). Tumour formation in such a primitive species suggests that cancer actually evolved hundreds of millions of years ago. While this may sound like bad news, understanding more about the origins of cancer will help to identify its weak points, and give direction for alternative treatments. Cosmologist Paul Davies recently surmised that if cancer evolved from prehistoric times – when the Earth's atmosphere had less oxygen – the tumours might not be equipped to function in a high oxygen environment. Preliminary studies have shown much promise – patients supplied with slightly elevated levels of oxygen in addition to cancer therapy drugs showed an increased response to the treatment, without any increase in side effects.

Written by Helen Thomas

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