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Reversion to Type

A cosmologist and his colleagues, tasked with re-thinking cancer, have developed an "atavistic" model of cancer that says that the disease may be the result of cells' attempts to protect themselves, Scientific American reports.

Arizona State University's Paul Davies and his colleagues suggest in BioEssays that cancer stems from cells' reversion to an ancestral phenotype. Single-celled organisms used to benefit from proliferation, but Davies tells Scientific American that "immortality was outsourced to the eggs and sperm" in multicellular organisms. In cancer, they say, this recently evolved control over somatic cell proliferation and differentiation is lost.

"Cancer is a fail-safe," Davies adds. "Once the subroutine is triggered, it implements its program ruthlessly."

This model, the researchers say, also suggests different approaches for targeting cancer.

Other researchers are unconvinced, SciAm points out. "The 'predictions' of atavism are nothing that scientists haven't come to by other paths," David Gorski, a surgical oncologist at Wayne State University, says.