Welcoming the Annual Review of Cancer Biology

I’ve been looking forward to this series for a long time, and I’m glad to see the first volume fully published. Browse the table of contents for the Annual Review of Cancer Biology, Volume 1.

The autobiography by Harold Varmus, “How Tumor Virology Evolved into Cancer Biology and Transformed Oncology,” is a wonderful starting place for this series.  As Dr. Varmus tells his story, he introduces us to a field that constantly changing:

The story I will tell here is about the path that led to this new state of affairs. In that sense, this article differs from the kind of intellectual autobiography that commonly opens a volume of an Annual Reviews journal. Those articles, which I have read with pleasure over several decades, instructively track the development of new methods and the discovery of new facts within a single laboratory in the course of a senior scientist’s long career. I intend to provide my perspective on how a field of biological research—represented by this first volume of the Annual Review of Cancer Biology—began, grew, evolved, and prospered: not an impersonal account, but one that discusses my views of changing tides in cancer research more than the ebb and flow of people, ideas, and findings in my own laboratory.

ca1-varmusIt is a thoughtful and interesting history of not only Dr. Varmus’s career but how the field of cancer biology has developed.

Brandon Faubert & Ralph J. DeBerardinis introduced me to new methodologies in their article “Analyzing Tumor Metabolism In Vivo.” Working with live tumors is a new idea for me, and I was amazed at the wealth of information researchers are obtaining.

A comprehensive description of the pathways altered in cancer, the mechanisms by which they are perturbed, and the resulting metabolic vulnerabilities could drastically alter how we understand cancer and how we treat it. A key challenge is to apply systems that reliably report the metabolic features of intact tumors, particularly in patients. Although many current concepts in cancer metabolism derive from observations made in cultured cancer cell lines, research on the metabolic features of living tumors in mice and humans has begun to accelerate. We review some classical concepts in metabolic reprogramming, asking why metabolism is altered in cancer cells (i.e., the benefits of metabolic reprogramming to the cell) and how it is altered (i.e., the mechanisms of metabolic reprogramming). From there, we discuss approaches to investigating the metabolism of intact tumors and new principles in cancer biology arising from these studies.

Last on my reading list is “Resisting Resistance” by Ivana Bozic & Martin A. Nowak because I wanted to know more about the difficulties with targeted therapies and what the latest research looks like.  What I discovered was that I’m going to need to dust off my biology textbooks to refresh my background, and that these therapies can evolve resistance.

Targeted therapies, immunotherapies, and improved chemotherapies are being developed to reduce the suffering and mortality that come from human cancer. Although these approaches, and in particular combinations of them, are expected to succeed eventually to a large degree, they all suffer one obstacle: Populations of replicating cells move away—typically in a high-dimensional space—from any opposing selection pressure they encounter. They evolve resistance. It is possible, however, to develop a precise mathematical understanding of the problem and to design treatment strategies that prevent resistance if possible or manage resistance otherwise.

Suzanne K. Moses is Annual Reviews’ Senior Electronic Content Coordinator. For 15+ years, she has played a central role in the publication of Annual Reviews’ online articles. Not a single page is posted online without first being proofed and quality checked by Suzanne.