By: Ross Keller, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program
In this fourth part of the War on Cancer, I will discuss a phenomenon that has only recently been pushed to the forefront of cancer biology, and it both complicates and opens new doors to treatment strategies. That concept is “tumor heterogeneity”—a tumor that is comprised of multiple types of transformed cells.
The traditional view of tumor formation is simple: DNA within a single cell is damaged, causing it to escape biological constraints and proliferate unchecked. Many tumors do behave like this. However, it has recently come to light that tumors can also be much more complicated. They can be populated by not just a single cell population, but a multitude of cell populations, causing some tumors to behave more like complex ecological systems rather than simple out of control cell divisions. In fact, some very basic ecology concepts you’ve learned in high school biology may be surprisingly similar to how researchers are beginning to view tumors today.