Center for Evolution and Cancer


December 2014
Can’t say no to cake? Your brain might be hijacked by stomach bugs Daily Times, Pakistan
August 2014
Can’t Stick to That Diet? Blame Your Gut Bacteria Time
June 2013
View video highlights from the From Unicellularity to Multicellularity and Back Again: 2nd International Biannual Evolution and Cancer Conference
April 17, 2012: 
Moving Targets: Fighting the Evolution of Resistance in Infections, Pests and Cancer.
A report from the American Academy of Microbiology

Feb 1, 2012:
Special issue of the journal Evolutionary Applications on Evolution and Cancer. >click here
The guest editors were Carlo Maley, Athena Aktipis, Michael Hochberg, Frederic Thomas and Ula Hibner. Articles were contributed by many of the CEC faculty. All papers are open access.


The Center for Evolution and Cancer within the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center is the first such entity in the world focusing on the fundamental evolutionary dynamics that drive carcinogenesis, therapeutic resistance, and cancer susceptibility. The CEC brings together researchers from across the world to accelerate progress in cancer research, with the goal of employing evolutionarily informed approaches to advance cancer research, cancer prevention, and patient management.

Recent Publications:

Research in the center focuses on three primary areas:

Cancer progression is an evolutionary process
Evolution is fundamental to the generation of cancer and our difficulty in curing cancer. A neoplasm is a microcosm of evolution with a mosaic of mutant clones competing for resources. Progression to malignancy occurs through a dynamic of natural selection within the neoplasm, as cells acquire the hallmarks of cancer and out-compete their surrounding cells.

Therapeutic resistance evolves in response to treatment
When we treat cancer, we may kill the majority of cells in the neoplasm, but this often selects for mutant clones that are resistant to the therapy, regardless of what drug we choose.  Understanding the evolutionary dynamics underlying therapeutic resistance allows us to target the processes leading relapse, with wide ranging impact for amplifying the effectiveness of current therapies and developing novel therapeutic approaches that are may be less susceptible to therapeutic resistance.

Organisms have evolved to suppress cancer
Cancer suppression and susceptibility can also be understood from the perspective of organismal evolution and trade-offs among selective pressures. For example, life history factors such as body size, lifespan, and reproductive strategies have led to cancer susceptibility as well as the evolution of mechanisms to suppress cancer. These mechanisms can be discovered through comparative biology (e.g., how elephants and whales are able to suppress cancer better than humans) and the study of trade-offs in human evolution.