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Discovering New Cancer Treatments By Studying Cacti

Athena Aktipis (left) and Carlo Maley
Mark Brodie/KJZZ
Athena Aktipis (left) and Carlo Maley in their cactus garden at ASU in Tempe

What can a type of cactus tell us about cancer, and treating the disease? Two researchers at ASU believe it's a lot.

Carlo Maley and Athena Aktipis have helped set up a cactus garden on the school’s Tempe campus — but the garden doesn’t feature the kinds of specimens you might expect to see. Instead, they’re plants with kinds of malformations on them.

Maley is an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and director of the Arizona Cancer Evolution Center. Aktipis is an assistant professor in the Psychology Department and director of ASU’s Interdisciplinary Cooperation Initiative.

The pair is interested in something called adaptive therapy, which is in the early stages of research, although they’ll be opening a clinical trial with the Mayo Clinic for patients with late stage breast cancer. One of their ideas is to look at what a tumor is doing and only treat it if it’s growing.

The Show recently spoke with Carlo Maley and Athena Aktipis at their cactus garden to talk about it.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.