Working Group in Cancer and Evolution
Organizers: Rui Diogo, Howard University, Nicolaas Fourie, NIH, and Jason Somarelli, Duke University. The past decade has seen the generation of enormous amounts of ‘omics data from a wide variety of cancer samples. Yet, despite these tremendous research efforts, our understanding of the evolution of cancer is still in its infancy. Part of the problem is not in the acquisition of the data, per se, but in the way we have been analyzing these data. Current methods of disease subtyping view diseases as discrete, identifiable entities. At a gross level this may be accurate, but it belies the complexity of natural systems. The limitations in current subtyping approaches are, in part, due to the nature of statistical interrogation, which requires discrete groups to be identified and then compared and repeated in subsequent independent populations. Phylogenetics, on the other hand, views diseases/cancers as lying on a continuum of accumulating changes. Our group is applying phylogenetics analyses to the vast array of ‘omics data to understand the position of individual patients on this continuum from early disease through metastatic progression. We postulate that phylogenetics can be applied to early detection of cancer and the identification of novel cancer subtypes.