Moffitt Cancer Center’s Physical Sciences – Oncology Center Receives $10.4 Million Grant to Study the Intersection of Evolution and Cancer Therapy

November 03, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. – Moffitt Cancer Center has long recognized the need to integrate mathematicians into cancer research to better understand the complex dynamics that govern cancer growth and treatment. The Integrated Mathematical Oncology (IMO) Department, established in 2007 and now consisting of six faculty members, integrates their skills with cancer biologists and oncologists in teams to use mathematical models to better understand cancer progression and treatment. This team driven science has led to pioneering work that has recently been acknowledged through a $10. 4 million award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), designating Moffitt as one of the 5 Physical Science – Oncology Centers (PSOC) in the United States. The other four members of the NCI’s Physical Sciences – Oncology Centers Program include Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia and Northwestern. 

The Moffitt PSOC is led by three highly interactive principle investigators - Alexander R. A. Anderson, Ph.D., chair of the IMO; Robert J. Gillies, Ph.D., chair of Cancer Imaging and Metabolism; and Robert A. Gatenby, M.D., chair of Radiology and a founder of this interdisciplinary effort.  The PSOC focuses on evolution as the fundamental driving force of cancer development and the main reason that cancer therapy fails. A central goal of the center is to develop new strategies to prevent and treat cancer by exploiting Charles Darwin’s concept of natural selection.    

“Cancer is a complex adaptive system that is driven by evolution of optimal traits that allows the cancer population to grow within its environment. When you treat a tumor with any therapy that causes tumor cell death, the tumor cells immediately begin to evolve resistance. This leads to treatment failure even when the initial response was excellent.  Ultimately, the ability of tumor cells to evolve is the cause of death in people who die from cancer,” said Gatenby. “Our research investigates the evolutionary dynamics that drive cancers and uses our understanding of evolution against the cancer. But, this is a very complex process so we need sophisticated mathematical models and computer simulations to optimize treatments.” 

The Moffitt PSOC is an integrating force that promotes interactions between experimentalists and mathematicians with an eye to developing new paradigms to prevent and treat cancer in the clinic. 

“Cancer growth and therapy resistance are non-linear processes and therefore by definition non-intuitive.  Our biggest hope of uncovering the key mechanisms that drive cancer is through the use of mathematical and computational models,” said Anderson.  “Mathematical models are ideal tools for integrating the diverse components of cancer, with their ability to bridge multiple biological scales (from genes, proteins, pathways, cells, tissues, organs, populations), they can make novel predictions about the drivers of resistance, the likelihood of relapse or how best to tailor a therapy for a specific patient.” 

“It is well recognized within our PSOC that models must be informed by and tested experimentally,” said Gilles. “We have been successfully accomplishing this kind of multidisciplinary team science for some time and have observed that even subtle perturbations can change a cancer’s direction from one that is highly lethal to a form that is more controllable.  The new PSOC will be used to expand this paradigm to more cancers, with a goal of clinical trials to test the experimentally verified model predictions.”  

About Moffitt Cancer Center
Located in Tampa, Moffitt is one of only 45 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research, its contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt is the top-ranked cancer hospital in Florida and has been listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of the “Best Hospitals” for cancer care since 1999. With more than 4,600 team members, Moffitt has an economic impact in the state of $1.9 billion. For more information, visit, and follow the Moffitt momentum on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.