Darwindag og Horisontforelesning: Making Sense of Cancer

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. So what is the evolutionary meaning of cancer? What will it take to get rid of it? In this lecture, professor in medicine Jarle Breivik explores the evolutionary logic of cancer.

Illustration of cell division

February 13th – 16.0018.00 Studentsenteret, Egget, Bergen

The lecture
Cancer development is an evolutionary process driven by natural selection within a multicellular organism. This multicellular organism has evolved from a single cell, which itself is the result of billions of years of evolution. Concurrently, human organisms have evolved brains, which have enabled the evolution of cultural information. Some cultural phenomena, like smoking cigarettes, cause cancer. Others, like the evolution of biotechnology, aim to eliminate the disease.

Cancer causes disease, shapes our lives, and drives technological development. Like life in general, it involves natural selection of memes, genes, and epigenes. It is all about evolution, and Charles Darwin’s fundamental theory provides an integrated scientific framework for understanding the problem. Yet, it can be hard to see the meaning of this painful phenomenon that eventually kills so many of us. We are facing a fundamental paradox: Cancer is an inevitable consequence of aging. The better we get at treating cancer and other diseases, the longer we live, and the more cancer there will be in the population. The cancer epidemic is the result of our own success, and the solution is not the wonderful medicine many people imagine. We are in the midst of a major evolutionary transition, and The cure for cancer will be a technological revolution that will fundamentally change life on earth and what it means to be human.

In this lecture, Jarle Breivik explores the evolutionary logic of cancer. He draws lines from the evolution of the species, through embryologic development, to aging and malignant transformation. What will it take to get rid of cancer? Should society rather learn to live with it?

Practical information
Coffee and refreshments will be served from 15.45, and the lecture starts 16.15 in Egget, Studentsenteret (Parkveien 1).

Everyone is welcome! The lecture is intended for a wide audience, will be held in English, and is part of the Horizons seminar series of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences dedicated to big questions. Coffee and refreshments will be served from 15:45.

About the lecturer
Jarle Breivik is Professor and Head of Department of Behavioural Medicine at the Institute for Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo. He is an M.D. and has a Ph.D. in the field of immunotherapy. His theory on the evolutionary dynamics of cancer development has received international recognition. He later turned to science communication and medical education and received an Ed.D. in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania. Breivik has challenged the basic premise of cancer research about “finding a cure” and wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that spurred international debate (the op-ed is behind a paywall, but a related Science and Society article in EMBO Report is open access). His recent book Løsningen på kreftgåten has received excellent reviews (in DagbladetApollon, and Michael) and will be available in English later this year.