Is there a connection between extraterrestrials and cancer?
By Clay Holtzman, Hutchinson Center science writer
Can the science behind the search for extraterrestrial life be a game changer in cancer research?
That is what Hutchinson Center cancer geneticist Dr. Bill Grady is out to determine through an unlikely collaboration with one of the world’s leading minds in physics and astrobiology (life outside of earth).
Grady, member of the Public Health Sciences and Clinical Divisions at the Hutchinson Center, is the senior scientific investigator of the Physical Sciences-Oncology Center at Arizona State University.
The center, launched in 2009, is part of a 12-institute effort funded by the National Cancer Institute aimed at developing radical new approaches to cancer biology by teaming oncologists with experts from nonbiology backgrounds.
Grady co-leads the effort at ASU with Paul Davies, one of the preeminent minds in the world on theoretical physics, astrobiology and cosmology, topics that he has turned into more than 20 books. One aspect of Davies’ work is that life may exist outside of earth, but in a form that is different from life as we know it (carbon-based). He is also a proponent of the theory that this life may actually exist on earth — a so-called shadow biosphere.
“Paul is a very interesting guy. He really thinks outside the box,” Grady said. “Talking with physicists is very different than talking with cell biologists and molecular biologists.”
The NCI hopes that by combining alternative perspectives to science with some of the best minds in cancer research that new breakthroughs can be achieved.
The ASU center “has spent the first phase of its existence in establishing the relationships between cancer biologists and physicists. There have been some promising innovative ideas that have come out of from our collaboration that with further funding will have potential to expand our understanding of cancer,” Grady says.
The ASU Center, which is one of a dozen physical science-oncology centers across the country, has tapped another Hutchinson center scientist. Dr. Steven Henikoff, member of the Basic Sciences Division, leads a project called “Probing the Physical Properties of Nucleosomes during Cancer Progression.”