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Cancer as a dynamical phase transition

Paul CW Davies1, Lloyd Demetrius23 and Jack A Tuszynski45*

Author Affiliations

1 Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, Arizona State University, P.O. Box 871504, Tempe, AZ, 85287-1504, USA

2 Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

3 Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Germany

4 Department of Experimental Oncology, Cross Cancer Institute, Cross Cancer Institute, 11560 University Avenue, Edmonton, AB, T6G 1Z2, Canada

5 Department of Physics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2G7, Canada

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Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 2011, 8:30  doi:10.1186/1742-4682-8-30

Published: 25 August 2011


This paper discusses the properties of cancer cells from a new perspective based on an analogy with phase transitions in physical systems. Similarities in terms of instabilities and attractor states are outlined and differences discussed. While physical phase transitions typically occur at or near thermodynamic equilibrium, a normal-to-cancer (NTC) transition is a dynamical non-equilibrium phenomenon, which depends on both metabolic energy supply and local physiological conditions. A number of implications for preventative and therapeutic strategies are outlined.