Scientists representing the University of Utah have come to know that elephants possess defenses against cancer that can effectively prevent tumor formation. They revealed this fact when they were trying to explain why cancer rates among elephants are much lower than what they should have been considering their enormous size.
The scientists said that this ability of elephants showed that nature already know the right way of preventing cancer and has figured out how to devise new, effective treatments. However, experts stated that the focus must be on the “absurd” and “ridiculous” things humans keep on doing for increasing cancer risk.
It is often said that every single cell in a creature’s body can turn cancerous, which means the more the number of cells one has, the bigger is his or her chances of getting cancer. An elephant due to its massive size possibly has 100 times more cells than a normal human being; and with this logic the animal must be at 100 times more risk of developing the disease than a normal human being.
Pediatric oncologist Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a part of the team that revealed the above information, said that if all factors are considered it would have been logical if cancer was extremely common among the elephants. According to him, the animal should have been extinct by now as a result of being at extremely high risk of developing cancer.
However, statistics gathered by the scientists suggested that just 5% of elephants die due to cancer. The percentage is as high as 25% for the human beings. This forced the scientists to check elephants’ DNA to find a suitable explanation for this disparity.
Cancer occurs due to mutations in the DNA of a cell, which results in the production of faulty instructions triggering an uncontrolled growth of cells. However, animals do possess their own “smoke alarms”, which can detect these damages and result in killing or repairing of the cell.
TP53 is one such alarm. When studying elephants’ DNA, scientists came to know that while humans possess just one TP53 gene, elephants have as many as 20 of them. This makes the gigantic animals better- equipped for killing off the cells on the verge of turning cancerous.