Topic Abstract: Eco-oncology: Exploiting Chaos in Complex Adaptive Systems

Brent Reynolds, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Neurosurgery


We exist in a realm of unpredictability where everything is connected, and our collective actions create a reality that is nearly impossible to predict. This interconnectedness gives significance to seemingly ordinary actions that, through emergence, create greater effects and unpredicted outcomes. This phenomenon results from CHAOS, which is defined as an “inherent unpredictability in the behaviour of a Complex Adaptive System.”  In popular media, this has been called The Butterfly Effect and is one of the central components of Complexity Theory that was first brought to light at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico in the 1980s.

In this lecture, we will introduce the concept of Eco-Oncology, a marriage of Ecology and Oncology in which principles used to manage pest populations can be used to manage tumour populations. Taking the position that cancers, like a diverse and complicated ecosystem, are complex adaptive systems, we will explore how this is defined, where we can find it, and how we can exploit the features that create robustness in complex adaptive systems to manage better or control the growth of cancers.

Similar to how ecologists aim to restore balance in natural environments, Eco-Oncology seeks to disrupt the cancer cell’s environment to make it more difficult for them to thrive and spread. This can involve strategies like depriving cancer cells of their resources or interrupting their communication and cooperation, similar to how we might stop the spread of an invasive species.

During our conversation, we will explore the effect of chaos on biological systems, its use in oncology, and how it influences the trajectory of almost everything we encounter.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Brent Reynolds is a neural stem cell biologist in the department of neurosurgery at the University of Florida. In addition to studying stem cells’ potential to repair the brain, his lab is also exploring ways to prevent cancer stem cells from growing uncontrollably. Surprisingly, the two are intimately connected, and clues may be found in divergent fields such as ecology and the study of dynamical systems within chaos theory.

Florida’s State Academic Standards for Science


Explain the relationship between mutation, cell cycle, and uncontrolled cell growth potentially resulting in cancer.


Compare and contrast the relationships among organisms, including predation, parasitism, competition, commensalism, and mutualism.


Evaluate the impact of biotechnology on the individual, society and the environment, including medical and ethical issues.

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