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Carlo Maley

Assistant Professor, Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program, Wistar Institute
Genomics and Computational Biology Program
Cellular and Molecular Biology Program
University of Pennsylvania

How we get cancer and why it has been so hard to cure

October 19, 2007
Lecture Hall 8, 4:00 PM


The story of cancer begins approximately 600 million years ago, with the rise of multicellular organisms. Before that point, there was no cancer. Afterwards, cancer was the central problem threatening the integrity of the body. Cancer has become a particular problem in developed countries. In the U.S., men have a 45% and women a 38% lifetime risk of developing cancer. Despite the enormous progress we have made in technology and medicine in the last 50 years, we have made almost no progress reducing deaths from cancer, even when we take into account changes in lifespan. Why is cancer such a difficult problem to solve? Because cells in tumors evolve. Tumor cells mutate a high rates and compete for space and resources like oxygen. Mutant cells that can reproduce or survive better than their competitors tend to spread in a tumor. Thus, tumors are microcosms of natural selection. By the time we detect a tumor in the clinic, it contains billions of cells carrying tens of thousands of mutations. By chance, some of those mutant cells are often resistant to the anti-cancer drugs we use. The result is temporary remission followed by relapse with a resistant tumor. Therapeutic resistance is so common that attention has recently switched to detecting cancer early in its development when it is still easy to cut out, or preventing cancer altogether.

In addition, Carlo will give a noon talk in Science III, rm 214 titled “Clonal Evolution in Barrett’s Esophagus Neoplastic Progression”


Carlo Maley received his B.A. in computer science and psychology from Oberlin College in 1991, his M.Sc. in zoology (evolutionary theory) from University of Oxford in 1993, working with William D. Hamilton, and his Ph.D. in computer science from MIT in 1998, working with Michael Donoghue and Rodney Brooks. He carried out his postdoctoral training with Prof. Stephanie Forrest at the University of New Mexico and then Dr. Brian Reid at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He is currently an assistant professor at the Wistar Institute and a member of the Genomics and Computational Biology as well as the Cellular and Molecular Biology graduate programs at the University of Pennsylvania.


  1. Cancer as an ecological and evolutionary process
  2. Genetic clonal diversity predicts progression to esophageal adenocarcinoma

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