Science & Wellness

What can oncology learn from ecology?

Video by Lyon Duong and Brianne Lehan/UF Photography. Artwork: "Caribou Migration" by Subhankar Banerjee, 2002, loan courtesy of Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; purchased through the Charles F. Venrick 1936 Fund

Brent Reynolds

professor of neurosurgery, UF Health  

Madan Oli

professor of wildlife ecology and conservation, UF/IFAS

Can wisdom from wildlife help us outsmart cancer? That’s what neuroscientist Brent Reynolds and ecologist Madan Oli’s ten-year collaboration asks — and answers. Together, they have launched a discipline called eco-oncology, applying what we know about the ecology of animal populations to tumor cells, which communicate, migrate and reproduce much as wildlife does. One key lesson: When managing a pest that’s plaguing an agricultural crop, it’s rarely beneficial to try to defeat it completely. That approach can leave behind only the hardiest invaders, which then come back even stronger. The same is true for tumors. Instead of pummeling them with chemotherapy until only the strongest tumor cells remain, could we manage the population, keeping the toughest ones in check? Lessons like these, drawn from ecology, could reshape our approach to cancer treatment.

This is part of a series highlighting people at the University of Florida working to protect our well-being and the health of the planet, paired with works from the Harn Museum of Art exhibition “The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene.” See more at

Alisson Clark Author
January 18, 2019