Scientists have discovered an unlikely link between the development of cancer and elephants.
In a recent study conducted by Joshua Schiffman of the University of Utah, it was found that only 5 per cent of elephants will die of cancer, which is a significantly lower amount than humans.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study found that lower cases of cancer in the animal kingdom could be due to the prevalence of the pachyderms’ gene.
These genes can assist in preventing tumours from forming, according to scientists.
The animals contain multiple copies of the gene TP53, which acts to regulate cell division. Whilst humans contain only one of these genes, elephants have twenty times that amount.
Dr Joshua Schiffman, one of the researchers and a paediatric oncologist, said: “By all logical reasoning, elephants should be developing a tremendous amount of cancer, and in fact, should be extinct by now due to such a high risk for cancer.
“Nature has already figured out how to prevent cancer, it’s up to us to learn how different animals tackle the problem so we can adapt those strategies to prevent cancer in people.”
Examining over 36 different types and sizes of species, the results showed that cancer-related mortality rates did not increase with body size or life span.
The research also tested the resilience of the mammals’ DNA by subjecting white blood cells from the elephants to damages that could trigger cancer. The cells then reacted by killing off the damaged cells in a “characteristic p53-mediated response.”
“If you kill the damaged cell, it’s gone, and it can’t turn into cancer. This may be more effective of an approach to cancer prevention than trying to stop a mutated cell from dividing and not being able to completely repair itself,” said Shiffman in a press statement.
“We think that making more p53 is nature’s way of keeping this species alive.”
Additional studies will now be conducted to determine whether p53 directly protects elephants from cancer.