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Human and Social Evolution

The Human and Social Evolution area of the Center for Evolution and Cancer facilitates research in two primary areas:

Human Evolution and Cancer - How has human evolution shaped cancer susceptibility, cancer suppression and our approaches to treating cancer?
Human physiology and behavior play key roles in cancer, and there is a currently an unrealized opportunity for evolutionary psychologists, human behavioral ecologists and other specialists in human evolution and behavior to contribute to cancer research.  Evolutionary pressures shaping somatic investment (e.g., DNA repair, wound healing, immune function) and reproductive investment (e.g., having high levels of reproductive hormones) have influenced cancer suppression and susceptibility in ways that can be effectively addressed through collaborative research between cancer researchers and experts in human evolution. Further, human evolution may have also shaped our perception of cancer and our approaches to treatment.

Social Evolution and Cancer - How does social evolution among cancer cells, and other cells in their microenvironment, affect cancer initiation and progression?
Whenever individuals affect the fitness of neighbors (positively or negatively) social evolution occurs.  Cancer cells often affect the fitness of neighboring cells through movement, the production of cytokines and modifying their local environments.  Social evolutionary theory and methods (including cooperation theory, niche construction, transitions in individuality and life history theory) can be applied to a variety of questions in cancer research.

Goals of the Human and Social Evolution Area of the CEC include

  1. Providing cancer education and training for human and social evolution researchers
  2. Facilitating collaborations among cancer researchers and human and social evolution researchers
  3. Supporting research at the intersection of human/social evolution and cancer

CEC Faculty in Human and Social Evolution Area

A.AktipisC. Athena Aktipis, UC San Francisco, Arizona State University (Director)



  • Alexander R. Anderson, Moffitt Cancer Center
  • David Basanta, Moffitt Cancer Center
  • Iain D. Couzin, Princeton
  • S. Boyd Eaton, Emory University
  • Bruce Ellis, University of Arizona
  • Paul Ewald, University of Louisville
  • AJ Figueredo, University of Arizona
  • Kevin Foster, Oxford University
  • Edward Hagen, Washington State University, Vancouver
  • David Haig, Harvard University
  • Martie Haselton, UCLA
  • Bob Hiatt, UC San Francisco
  • Virginia Kwan, Arizona State University
  • Aurora Nedelcu, University of New Brunswick
  • Randolph Nesse, University of Michigan
  • Steven Neuberg, Arizona State University
  • John Pepper, National Cancer Institute
  • Steven Pinker, Harvard University
  • Kathleen Sprouffske, University of Pennsylvania
  • John Tooby, UC Santa Barbara
  • Karen Weihs, University of Arizona

Selected Research Projects

Psychological Barriers and Opportunities for Evolutionary Thinking in Cancer
Virgina Kwan, C. Athena Aktipis, Kathryn Johnson, Steven Neuberg, Carlo Maley
view article: “Psychological Barriers to Evolutionary Thinking in Medicine”

Breast Cancer Susceptibility from an Evolutionary Life History Perspective
C. Athena Aktipis, Bruce Ellis, Robert Hiatt
Upcoming talk: Evolution and Cancer Conference, UCSF June 3-5

Resource Use Dynamics and the Evolution of Cell Motility
C. Athena Aktipis, John Pepper, Carlo Maley
Grant: F32 CA144331, Dr. Aktipis PI


The Human and Social Evolution Area is supported in part by the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UCSF Thoracic Oncology Program.