(Mirror Daily, United States) – Cancer is less spread among elephants than in humans, despite the fact that the big beasts have a lot more cells than we do. Doing more research on elephants’ low cancer rates might help treat humans, as scientists finally have an explanation for the paradox.
Researchers are constantly looking for new ways to prevent cancer in humans, and understanding how the disease affects other species is always a useful insight. Two teams of scientists discovered elephants are simply much better protected against cancer as their cells contain 20 reiterations of an important cancer-suppressing gene. By comparison, humans have just one copy.
The teams still need to prove that more p53 genes can create a cancer-resistant protection for the organism. However, the findings showed that this particular gene can help repair damaged cells or drive them to self-destruct in case of exposure to cancer-causing substances.
If further research confirms this theory, drugs for humans could be developed to mimic the effect of the gene. The leader of one of the research teams, Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric cancer specialist at the University of Utah, said he was encouraged to start studying this gene a few years ago when he participated in a lecture about Peto’s paradox.
This concept refers to the fact that some of the largest animals, such as whales and elephants, have surprisingly low cancer rates in spite of the many cells that could stimulate the uncontrolled cell growth involved in cancer development.
Schiffman proceeded to analyze elephant blood in order to find clues; his subjects were eight elephants, circus animals, and local zoo animals. Joined by a second team, Schiffman found out the exact number of copies of the gene – 20 extra. The second team focused on finding how many copies other species have – including humans – and discovered most have only one.
They also noticed that the self-destruction rate of an elephant’s cell is twice the rate of the human’s cell. This is important because cells that don’t react to carcinogens by either self-repairing or self-destructing are the ones most prone to develop cancer.
Even though such discoveries rarely lead to immediate treatment, progress in finding a cure cancer is always welcomed. The team took it a step further and planted elephants’ p53 genes into mouse cells, and were surprised to see those cells self-destructing when exposed to DNA-damaging drugs.
Schiffman seeks further funding for his research in an attempt to create a possible treatment for humans based on the elephant research.
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