Skip to nav Skip to content
Dr. Gatenby

Meet Robert Gatenby, MD

Co-Director, Center of Excellence for Evolutionary Therapy

"Moffitt is an interesting place because it's small enough that it's dynamic; that it can be nimble."

Dr. Robert Gatenby has long understood that cancer doesn’t follow the rules. Rather than take a straight line, it evolves in unexpected ways. That’s what makes it so hard to know the best way to treat it.

This unpredictability is why he felt strongly that Moffitt Cancer Center needed one more tool to understand the disease. And that tool was mathematics.

“I think the role of mathematics is to give us a sense of the non-linear dynamics,” he explains. In simple terms, Dr. Gatenby says that human intuition doesn’t always lead to the right ways to treat a tumor. By using mathematical models and computer simulations, Moffitt can better understand the actions of cancer.

Nation's First Cancer Biology and Evolution Program

To make it a reality, Moffitt started the Cancer Biology and Evolution program—the only one of its kind in the country.

Putting mathematicians alongside biologists was a game-changer. Now Moffitt is in a unique position to find new strategies to prevent tumors from recurring, progressing or even occurring at all.

Dr. Gatenby was actually surprised at how open the organization originally was to the whole idea. “I didn’t get raised eyebrows, I didn’t get people chuckling,” he says. “I actually got people saying, ‘That’s a really interesting idea; I could see where that would work.’”

But what does it all mean? Dr. Gatenby and his team are beginning to see this new approach bear fruit. A groundbreaking trial is currently underway, and early results have been encouraging. The goal: to uncover the next promising therapies for treating cancer.

Dr. Gatenby sees courage in his patients. Yet, perhaps too modestly, he doesn’t see it in himself. “I just have persistence and stubbornness,” he maintains. “It was a conviction that I was right… that if I didn’t do it, nobody was going to do it.”

If that’s not courage, what is?