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Miami Symposium Honors Fidler for Metastasis Research

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  Isaiah Fidler, D.V.M, Ph.D. Isaiah J. Fidler, D.V.M, Ph.D., a pioneer in understanding how cancer spreads to other organs and then taps its new environment to thrive and grow, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from Nature Publishing at the 2010 Miami Winter Symposium - Targeting Cancer Invasion and Metastasis.

Fidler, a professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Cancer Biology and director of the Cancer Metastasis Research Center, will be honored tonight and will deliver an award lecture on the biology and therapy of metastasis . 

Organizers of the annual scholarly meeting select an important topic as a theme, invite experts in the field to present the program, and honor a select few influential scientists. Metastasis -- the spreading of cancer from its original site to other organs -- causes 90% of all cancer deaths.

"This honor is fitting recognition of Dr. Fidler's crucial contributions to our understanding of the origins and mechanisms of cancer metastasis," says Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D, executive vice president and provost of M. D. Anderson. "His insights into how the metastatic cell subverts routine biological processes to support its growth in a new organ underpin today's routine study of the tumor microenvironment."

Fidler's major findings include:

  • 99.99% of cancer cells that depart a primary tumor die, with metastases originating from less than .01% of cells, even from a single cell.
  • Metastatic cells exist in the genetic diversity of the original tumor and are uniquely suited to spread and grow. Like a "decathlon athlete," they must overcome at least 10 separate biological hurdles to escape the main tumor, run a gauntlet of hazards, and then settle in their new home. 
  • The destination of a metastatic cell is not governed by a random process or physical proximity. Rather the metastatic "seeds" of a given cancer only take root and grow in certain organs with a welcoming microenvironment, or "soil." For example, prostate cancer metastasizes mainly to bones. By demonstrating this, Fidler revived the "seed-and-soil" hypothesis of metastasis, an insight by 19th century British physician Stephen Paget that had been neglected for nearly 100 years. 

Successful cancer therapy must target both the seed and the soil. Fidler's research currently focuses on brain metastasis, which afflicts more than 200,000 people annually in the United States. Fidler and colleagues have shown that lethal metastases from primary cancers, such as lung or breast, resist therapy because they trick astrocytes -- brain cells that nourish neurons -- into supporting them.

The Winter Symposium is a 42-year-old series of annual sessions focusing on major biological questions. It's organized by the Nature Publishing Group, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, both  at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.  

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