Exploiting evolutionary principles to prolong tumor control in preclinical models of breast cancer

Sci Transl Med. 2016 Feb 24;8(327):327ra24. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aad7842.


Conventional cancer treatment strategies assume that maximum patient benefit is achieved through maximum killing of tumor cells. However, by eliminating the therapy-sensitive population, this strategy accelerates emergence of resistant clones that proliferate unopposed by competitors-an evolutionary phenomenon termed "competitive release." We present an evolution-guided treatment strategy designed to maintain a stable population of chemosensitive cells that limit proliferation of resistant clones by exploiting the fitness cost of the resistant phenotype. We treated MDA-MB-231/luc triple-negative and MCF7 estrogen receptor-positive (ER(+)) breast cancers growing orthotopically in a mouse mammary fat pad with paclitaxel, using algorithms linked to tumor response monitored by magnetic resonance imaging. We found that initial control required more intensive therapy with regular application of drug to deflect the exponential tumor growth curve onto a plateau. Dose-skipping algorithms during this phase were less successful than variable dosing algorithms. However, once initial tumor control was achieved, it was maintained with progressively smaller drug doses. In 60 to 80% of animals, continued decline in tumor size permitted intervals as long as several weeks in which no treatment was necessary. Magnetic resonance images and histological analysis of tumors controlled by adaptive therapy demonstrated increased vascular density and less necrosis, suggesting that vascular normalization resulting from enforced stabilization of tumor volume may contribute to ongoing tumor control with lower drug doses. Our study demonstrates that an evolution-based therapeutic strategy using an available chemotherapeutic drug and conventional clinical imaging can prolong the progression-free survival in different preclinical models of breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mice
  • Paclitaxel / pharmacology
  • Paclitaxel / therapeutic use
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Paclitaxel