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Polygence Scholar2022
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Alexander Rodgers

Westlake High SchoolClass of 2023Austin, Texas



  • "Metabolism as a cancer-suppressive mechanism in whales" with mentor Samuel (Sept. 23, 2022)

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Metabolism as a cancer-suppressive mechanism in whales

Started Apr. 29, 2022

Abstract or project description

The largest whales have thousands of times more cells than do humans. Paired with long life spans, this should hypothetically increase the incidence of cancer proportionally as the probability of any single cell failing to perform a cellular function, such as apoptosis, increases. This has been observed in humans, where tissues with higher rates of cell division have experienced cancer at higher rates [1]. As is observed empirically, however, rates of cancer in whales are generally consistent if not lower than the rate of cancer in humans despite more cell division, while smaller organisms such as mice may experience incredibly high cancer incidence[2]. This trend of disproportionately low cancer rates in large organisms forms the basis of the trend known as Peto’s Paradox.

To investigate a potential novel explanation for this trend in whales, we will rely on observations and hypotheses of the functionality of the Warburg effect in humans to justify the role that 3 hypoxia-tolerant aspects of whale metabolism may play in reducing cancer risk and growth. Specifically, we will rely on observations of more efficient anaerobic and aerobic cell metabolism under hypoxic conditions as a capability of whales [3], the ability to rely on lipid and protein reserves as alternatives to glucose for energy [4], and specialized characteristics among hypoxia inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) enzymes in whales [5]. We will then discuss the ways that these specialized metabolic characteristics may limit first the ability of cancer to use carbon as a metabolic byproduct to duplicate [6], and secondly impede the ability of cancer to alter HIF-1 enzymes and force anaerobic energy production [7]. In doing so, this paper will provide the first instance of synthesizing information related to the Warburg Effect in humans and observed information regarding hypoxic metabolisms in Wales to form a comprehensive analysis of how whale’s fight cancer.