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Those Innovative Scientists

People give artists credit for being innovative—and they are. They often have to create something from nothing and the tabula rasa looms large. However, I am lucky enough to work with truly innovative scientists; people who are trying to solve huge problems, who have to step into new territories all the time just to have a hope at solving these seemingly unsolvable problems.

I was recently going over the roster of speakers for the next International Society for Evolution, Ecology, and Cancer (ISEEC) conference. The theme this year is “Resistance, Resilience and Robustness”. As most people know, cancer has an amazing capacity to exhibit these three qualities even when aggressively attacked. This is a core problem when trying to figure out how to treat cancer. We know that cancer is not just a baseball of cells that are all alike but rather more like a city of diverse cells, all with a variety of qualities; personalities if you will. What other examples of diversity and complexity could shed light on how cancers function? What other examples of resilience and resistance might have lessons that we could apply to how we think about cancer treatments?

The organizing scientists have invited not just innovative cancer researchers (of which there are many) but also scientists who are looking at the idea of these “Three R’s” within other systems and societies.

  • Deborah Gordon is an ant researcher. She is interested in ant colonies and how natural selection and the size of their colonies might be shaping their patterns of interaction.
  • Pablo A. Marquet studies macro-ecology—looking at ecology through the lens of organisms and their environment at a macro scale.
  • Kathryn Hunt is first and foremost an archeologist but she is also a cancer survivor. Her interests lie in exploring cancer in humans through the lens of ancient historical remains.
  • Sunetra Gupta, clearly a Renaissance thinker, is a professor of theoretical epidemiology as well as an award winning novelist.

As a person who is used to table discussions with many kinds of people, I know that the conversations will be thought-provoking. Innovative thinkers from a wide variety of disciplines getting together to ping pong ideas around often results in intractable problems being solved. Wouldn’t it be amazing if, through this opportunity for divergent minds to get together and talk about the “Three R’s, we actually succeeded in cracking the cancer problem wide open? My grandmother would approve.