National Cancer Institute Awards $2.8 Million to Cleveland Clinic to Study Balance of Ecological and Evolutionary Contributors to Cancer

Understanding interaction of these influences may lead to new treatment options

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Katrina Healy 216.444.4255

Alicia Reale-Cooney 216.408.7444

Jacob Scott, M.D., Ph.D.

Jacob Scott, M.D., Ph.D., a physician researcher from Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Translational Hematology and Oncology Research, recently received a $2.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, to study how ecological and evolutionary mechanisms contribute to lung cancer development and progression, and how the interplay between these mechanisms may provide novel treatment insights.

With this new grant, Dr. Scott will build on two major research efforts he published earlier this year. The first of which, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, detailed the first-in-class test he and his team developed to directly quantify and describe the ecological forces (interactions within the cell) and evolutionary mechanisms (cell mutation and selection) that lead to the treatment resistance commonly observed in cancer cells. In this work, the researchers measured and compared growth rates of non-small cell lung cancer cells sensitive and resistant to the drug alectinib. The study offered important insights into when and under what conditions resistant cells win over sensitive cells.

The new funds will enable Dr. Scott’s laboratory to continue this line of investigation—this time not just measuring conditions when resistant cells overpower sensitive cells, but to also manipulate the cells.

“Due to the heterogeneous nature of most tumors, developing a single silver bullet is not necessarily the answer to treating cancer,” said Dr. Scott who is also a practicing oncologist in the Department of Radiation Oncology, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute. “We may already have effective treatments within reach and need to identify the optimal combination and sequence to tackle each individual cancer.”

Dr. Scott’s second effort will dig deeper into advances described in a paper published in Nature Communications. In that publication, he and his team defined a quantitative measure of the probability of collateral sensitivity—a phenomenon observed when treatment with one drug leads to susceptibility to a second— which laid the groundwork for finding genomic indicators of this drug resistance.

Leveraging this effort, the research team will search for patterns in drug sensitivity and resistance in an effort to better understand when the switch from sensitivity to resistance flips, and what molecular characteristics may be predictive of that change. Defining these molecular hallmarks will be a critical step in identifying clinically meaningful information that may help clinicians better track the progression of a patient’s cancer and anticipate necessary changes in treatment plans. Understanding the role that time plays in these transitions will be equally important.

“The question we are most interested in answering is not ‘which treatment is best?’ but ‘in what combination and order is best?’” said Dr. Scott. “Understanding the ecological and evolutionary dynamics, how to interrupt them, and how to tell when the balance starts to tip towards resistance will be crucial in getting to the bottom of that question.”

About Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 66,000 employees are more than 4,200 salaried physicians and researchers and 16,600 nurses, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic’s health system includes a 165-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 11 regional hospitals in northeast Ohio, more than 180 northern Ohio outpatient locations – including 18 full-service family health centers and three health and wellness centers – and locations in southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2018, there were 7.9 million total outpatient visits, 238,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 220,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/CCforMedia and twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources are available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.