Ho Lam Tang, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery in the Division of Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He discovered an interesting and unexpected recovery mechanism that dying cells could use to escape from the brink of cell death. Programmed cell death, such as apoptosis has long been assumed as a one-way process ending in cell suicide. Challenging this general dogma, Dr. Tang demonstrated that dying cancer cells and primary cells can reverse the initiated apoptotic process, even at late execution stages, which are widely believed to be the “point of no return”. He coined a term “Anastasis”, which means “Rising to life” in Greek, to describe the recovery of dying cells.
Tang laboratory aims to understand the functional roles, pathological potentials, and therapeutic implications of anastasis. Anastasis could play important roles in mediating cell death and survival by limiting apoptosis during embryonic development and normal homeostasis. Enhancing anastasis to avert apoptosis and help spare injured neurons and heart cells may be beneficial for treating brain injury and heart failure, respectively. Conversely, suppressing anastasis in dying cancer cells, undergoing apoptosis due to anti-cancer therapies, may promote cancer cell death and reduce the chances of recurrence. A better understanding of what normally regulates anastasis is critical to understand the natural functions of anastasis, and to leverage this process for therapeutic applications.