Study tracks evolutionary transition to destructive cancer
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IMAGE: Carlo Maley is a researcher in the Biodesign Institute’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics and an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences view more 

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Credit: The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State university

Evolution describes how all living forms cope with challenges in their environment, as they struggle to persevere against formidable odds. Mutation and selective pressure–cornerstones of Darwin’s theory–are the means by which organisms gain an advantageous foothold or pass into oblivion.

In a new study, researchers at ASU’s Biodesign Institute led an international team to explore how evolutionary processes guide the pathways of cells. Their results, which appear in the advanced online edition of the journal Nature Communications, point to influences leading some cells to remain stable over time while driving others to become cancerous and expand without limit.

The new research focuses on a condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus (BE). The disease, which affects over three million Americans, causes cells lining the throat to change shape from their normal form (known as squamous epithelia) to a pathological cell type (known as columnar epithelia).

A small number of BE patients–just .2 percent per year–will go on to develop a highly lethal, treatment-resistant cancer, known as Esophageal Adenocarcinoma (EAC). Despite

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