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The cancer ecosystem

I just came across Game theory and the treatment of cancer. A fascinating article considering the ecosystem within a cell and organism as relevant to the understanding of Cancer.

I much prefer this more holistic view because much of what I’m learning shows cancer and the viruses and bacteria which cause it to be involved in the same kinds of struggles as all the other lifeforms we know about.

I don’t see cancer as a lifeform but I do see that it has a strong urge to manipulate the environment to its own ends, often to reproduce itself. It most certainly requires another organism to live but then if you considered the earth to be a cell then the effects humans have had on it as a species could easily be considered a metaphor for cancer. The scale is different but the effect very similar.

Game theory is exciting because it’s designed to explore and understand the relationships within ecosystems. So by approaching cancer in this frame of mind you can draw new inferences. There are many cancers we can’t cure yet. What if we had a natural treatment. Maybe not a cure but something that limited the cancer in someway.

One idea is that many cancers compete with each other. If you make the ecosystem right for one type of cancer and it will out compete the others. So what if you could promote the less aggressive cancers over the more aggressive ones. Much like promoting grass and wheat for farming over other plants. Make the cancer work for us in some way. A patient in this situation will still have cancer. Just a less aggressive one that we we may know how to control.

Considering an ecosystem the approach is more about redirecting the flow of interactions towards a better ecology for the patient. Instead of destroying the flora and fauna of a cell indiscriminately. This concept is very much in its early days but is a welcome addition to the traditional reductionist methodology. My analogy is that we didn’t get where we are with physics until we fully understood the atom (Ok, almost fully understood). We still don’t know everything at the minutest (quantum) level but we can describe and manipulate the basic atomic ecosystem reliably and efficiently. Understanding the whole has been as important as understanding the specific.

When that happens the quality and quantity of the solutions available increased immeasurably.

This is all part of understanding the relationship between fitness and cancer


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