A hopeful new research has explained how elephants may be holding the key element to fight cancer, and that their exceptionally prepared genes may aid the development of new treatments.
- Elephants have a 4.7% chance of developing cancer through their 60-70 years lifespan, while humans have an 11-25% risk
- Elephants have 20 copies of the TP53 genes while humans have only one, which kills cancerous cells
- Researchers tested the efficiency of TP53 genes, and found that elephants have more than twice the success of killing cancer
Dr. Joshua Schiffman, from Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah founded his study on a very simple premise. Considering that every cell in our body has an equal chance of turning into cancer, it means that more cells equals increased risk. That further implies that bigger bodies with more cells and longer lifespans, that prolongs cell division, have a heightened risk of developing cancer.
While logic dictates that elephants, with their large bodies and 60-70 years of life, should be littered with the dangerous disease, they are not. In fact, as found by Schiffman after studying a number of 600 specimens, they have only a 4.7% chance of dying to cancer. Humans, in comparison, have a risk between 11-25%. The simple equation alone prompted further studies on their TP53 gene.
Humans naturally inherit a pair of TP53 from their parents, one from their mother and one from their father. This highly important gene plays an important role in stopping tumor growth. If a human were to suffer a mutation in their DNA, which can happen at any point, TP53, known as the “Guardian of the Genome” swoops in to stop the harmful cells from dividing. It stops it, and if it fails, it will still try to fix it.
However, if just one of the two malfunctions, then the odds of developing cancer skyrocket to 90%. This means that our chances of combating this unfortunately wide spread disease hang in capabilities of one pair of genes.
Elephants face better odds because they receive 20 pairs of those same TP53 genes. This effectively battles and mostly succeeds in stopping cancerous cells from dividing. They have a naturally much more aggressive mechanism that efficiently wins the fight against cancer. Those extra TP53 genes are potentially the frontline defense, dedicated to killing mutated cells.
Researchers tested it by taking blood samples from three parties. One was from people with fully functioning TP53 genes, a second from patients with malfunction TP53 genes (known as Li-Fraumeni syndrome), and a third from elephants. They exposed the samples to radiation and watched all three attack the targeted cells. While for humans, the efficiency was of only 7.2% and 2.7% respectively, for elephants it was an astounding 14.6%.
According to the authors, if these findings could be replicated, they could provide a new mechanism in cancer prevention. It has sparked multiple studies around treatments surrounding TP53, and has brought information to light on how these grand animals have such low risk for cancer. While humans, on the other hand, have been left so vulnerable.
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