Why Elephants Are Beating Cancer


Dave, which animal, larger than us, with similar lifespans does not get cancer nearly as often? Whales? Nope. It's the elephant which is really interesting because you'd expect they'd have a higher incidence of cancer because they have a hundred times the cells we do. But only five percent of elephants die from cancer compared with our twenty five percent. This fits the Peto Paradox which says that cancer risk in animals does not increase with size or longevity and we don't know why.

Cancer arises from mutations in the DNA, the blueprint of life. Yet every cell has sensors that look for mutations in DNA and will self destruct if the DNA damage is unrepairable. This cell suicide is called apoptosis. An important gene in this process is the TP-fifty three and humans have two copies of it, one from your mother and one from your father. The African elephant by contrast has forty copies!

TP-fifty-three is a vital tumor suppressor gene and is called the guardian of the genome. In the majority of human cancers, they're found to be mutated. In a study, scientists worked with elephant blood by separating the white blood cells. They exposed the cells to treatments that damage DNA.

They did the same with normal human white blood cells as well as cells from people with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome who have only one copy of TP-fifty-three and are ninety percent likely to develop cancer. These damaged Elephant cells committed suicide at twice the rate as normal human cells and at five times the rate of Li-Fraumeni cells. This suggests the elephant's extra TP-fifty-threes protect it from cancer.

Who knew elephants could do this and it makes us ask, 'What else could we learn from our animal friends?'

More Information

Potential Mechanisms for Cancer Resistance in Elephants and Comparative Cellular Response to DNA Damage in Humans
Compared with other mammalian species, elephants appeared to have a lower-than-expected rate of cancer, potentially related to multiple copies of TP53. Compared with human cells, elephant cells demonstrated increased apoptotic response following DNA damage. These findings, if replicated, could represent an evolutionary-based approach for understanding mechanisms related to cancer suppression...

Why Elephants Don't Get Cancer
Cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans, even though the big beasts' bodies have many more cells. Now researchers think they may have an explanation ' one they say might someday lead to new ways to protect people from cancer.

Elephants Live Longer in the Wild, Study Shows
Elephants have a much longer lifespan in the wild than in captivity, according to a new study from Science.

Why Elephants Rarely Get Cancer
Why elephants rarely get cancer is a mystery that has stumped scientists for decades. A study led by researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah and Arizona State University, and including researchers from the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, may have found the answer.