Elephants can help human about fighting cancer

Here is one of the most amazing elephant facts and news: new research has uncovered the secret to elephants’ cancer-fighting prowess or much more animal facts here


In a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., scientists reveal that African elephants have 20 copies of a gene called TP53. This gene is prized by cancer researchers because of its ability to create a protein that suppresses tumors; in fact, scientists often refer to it as the “guardian of the genome.”

Humans, on the other hand, have just one copy of TP53.

The crucial gene keeps cells safe from cancer in two ways, according to Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric oncologist at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City and a senior author of the study.

“When there is DNA damage, it rushes onto the scene and stops your cells from dividing so the DNA can be repaired,” Schiffman said. “It also coordinates cell death or suicide.”

Humans inherit one allele of TP53 from each of their parents, and both of them must be functional to fight off cancer. Studies show that if one of the alleles is defective, cancer is certain to develop sooner or later.

Joshua Schiffman, M.D., and Lisa Abegglen, Ph.D., of the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, are researching mechanisms that may explain why elephants rarely get cancer.

Joshua Schiffman, M.D., and Lisa Abegglen, Ph.D., of the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, are researching mechanisms that may explain why elephants rarely get cancer.

With respect to cancer, patients with inherited Li-Fraumeni Syndrome are nearly the opposite of elephants. They have just one active copy of p53 and more than a 90 percent lifetime risk for cancer. Less p53 decreases the DNA damage response in patients with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, and Schiffman’s team wondered if more p53 could protect against cancer in elephants by heightening the response to damage. To test this, the researchers did a side-by-side comparison with cells isolated from elephants (n=8), healthy humans (n=10), and from patients with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (n=10). They found that elephant cells exposed to radiation self-destruct at twice the rate of healthy human cells and more than five times the rate of Li-Fraumeni cells (14.6%, 7.2%, and 2.7%, respectively). These findings support the idea that more p53 offers additional protection against cancer.

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