Does Cancer Biology Rely on Parrondo’s Principles?

Authors: Jean-Pascal Capp, Aurora M Nedelcu, Antoine M Dujon, Benjamin Roche, Francesco Catania, Beata Ujvari, Catherine Alix-Panabières and Frédéric Thomas

Source: CANCERS (MAY 2021)

Brief summary of the paper:

Many aspects of cancer biology remain puzzling, including the proliferative and survival success of malignant cells in spite of their high genetic and epigenetic instability as well as their ability to express migrating phenotypes and/or enter dormancy despite possible fitness loss.

Understanding the potential adaptive value of these phenotypic traits is confounded by the fact that, when considered separately, they seem to be rather detrimental at the cell level, at least in the short term. Here, we argue that cancer’s biology and success could frequently be governed by processes underlying Parrondo’s paradox, whereby combinations of intrinsically losing strategies may result in winning outcomes.

Oncogenic selection would favor Parrondo’s dynamics because, given the environmental adversity in which malignant cells emerge and evolve, alternating between various less optimal strategies would represent the sole viable option to counteract the changing and deleterious environments cells are exposed to during tumorigenesis.

We suggest that malignant processes could be viewed through this lens, and we discuss how Parrondo’s principles are also important when designing therapies against cancer.