Genes in African elephants could lead to protection for human cancers, study indicates
Sound like the start of a joke about the elephant in the room?
Well, it's not.
The implication that the pachyderm might have some kind of evolutionary protection against cancer while human beings can only wish for such immunity is somewhat unsettling.
According to a recent story by Deborah Netburn in the Los Angeles Times, scientists say that "just 4.8% of known elephant deaths related to cancer. For humans, cancer-related deaths are between 11% and 25%."
Those figures fly in the face of elephants, which live about 70 years, having 100 times more cells than humans — cells that, in theory at least, should therefore mutate and become malignant more often than human cells.
But African elephants, it appears, "have 20 copies of a gene called TP53" that has the "ability to create a protein that suppresses tumors," the Times article indicates.
That translated into "a damaged cell [destroying] itself so it won't pass on potentially harmful mutations," the piece noted.
Humans have only one copy of TP53.
|Dr. Joshua Schiffman|
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, indicated the findings could lead to creation of "a drug that mimics the actions of TP53" — which eventually could mean new protections for humans.
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