Treating Cancer as an Invasive Species.

Javad Noorbakhsh, The Jackson Laboratory
Zi-Ming Zhao, The Jackson Laboratory
James C Russell
Jeffrey Chuang, The Jackson Laboratory


To cure a patient's cancer is to eradicate invasive cells from the ecosystem of the body. However, the ecological complexity of this challenge is not well understood. Here we show how results from eradications of invasive mammalian species from islands-one of the few contexts in which invasive species have been regularly cleared-inform new research directions for treating cancer. We first summarize the epidemiological characteristics of island invader eradications and cancer treatments by analyzing recent datasets from the Database of Invasive Island Species Eradications and The Cancer Genome Atlas, detailing the superior successes of island eradication projects. Next, we compare how genetic and environmental factors impact success in each system. These comparisons illuminate a number of promising cancer research and treatment directions, such as heterogeneity engineering as motivated by gene drives and adaptive therapy; multi-scale analyses of how population heterogeneity potentiates treatment resistance; and application of ecological data mining techniques to high-throughput cancer data. We anticipate that interdisciplinary comparisons between tumor progression and invasive species would inspire development of novel paradigms to cure cancer.