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The Deep Evolutionary Roots of Cancer

The 2015 Charles Perkins Centre Annual Oration



Charles Perkins Centre Auditorium Johns Hopkins Drive The University of Sydney

Professor Paul Davies, Regents' Professor and Director, the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, Arizona State University

Cancer is the most studied phenomenon in biology, with over a million published papers, yet it remains poorly understood. In the USA alone, more than a trillion dollars has been spent on cancer research, but mortality rates remain little changed in several decades. Maybe progress is so slow because we are thinking about the problem the wrong way?

Paul Davies will describe how cancer has deep evolutionary roots going back at least to the dawn of multi-cellularity 1.5 billion years ago, and is closely related to processes that drive the development of the embryo and those that produce SOS responses in stressed bacteria. By regarding cancer as a deeply conserved and ancient biological phenomenon, as opposed to a modern disease, new approaches to therapy are suggested.


Professor Paul Davies is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and author. He is Regents’ Professor and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, at Arizona State University, where he also runs a major cancer research program as the Principal Investigator, Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology.

He held academic appointments in Cambridge, London and Newcastle before moving to Australia in 1990, where he helped create the Australian Centre for Astrobiology. His research has ranged from the origin of the universe to the origin of life and the nature of time. His most recent book is The Eerie Silence: are we alone in the universe? (2010).

He was awarded the Templeton Prize for his work on the deeper meaning of science. Among his many awards and honours are the Royal Society Faraday Prize, the Kelvin Medal and the Robinson Cosmology Prize. In 2007 he was named a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2011 he was presented with the Bicentenary Medal of Chile. The asteroid 1992 OG was renamed (6870) Pauldavies in recognition of his work on cosmic impacts. In 2011 he was profiled by Nature magazine who called him “The Disruptor” on account of his provocative approach to scientific questions.

The 2015 Charles Perkins Centre Annual Oration

The Charles Perkins Centre Annual Oration reflects the University of Sydney’s commitment to promoting discussion and debate within the community about life-changing solutions to global problems and to ensuring access to some of the world’s most remarkable minds.

Cost: Free and open to all with online registration required

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