Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric oncologist and research investigator at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, was often puzzled by the fact that large animals like Elephant and Whales have considerably less incidence of cancer as compared to smaller animals. Now researchers at the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute believe that a pachyderm gene could be helping the elephants ward off cancer.
The unlikely source of inspiration for Dr. Joshua D. Schiffman was a visit to Salt Lake City’s Hogle Zoo in 2012. Seeing Elephants he started to wonder why Elephants who have more blood in their body and hence logically must have more cancer. However, the truth is just the opposite. Elephants have only 5% risk of getting cancer as compared to 15 to 25% in humans.
Earlier Schiffman had discussed the possibility of studying the genetic makeup of these huge creatures Carlo C. Maley, who is an associate professor at Arizona State University. After three years, Schiffman has been able to establish why elephants have less incidence of cancer. It could also mean a start of new treatment for humans.
Schiffman along with zoo, Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, where Schiffman works, Primary Children’s Hospital, and the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah discovered that these huge creatures have 38 extra modified copies, or alleles, of a gene that encodes p53, a tumor suppressor. By comparison, humans only have two of these alleles.
Schiffman along with his research team discovered that elephant was a champion in cancer-fighting abilities. Elephants killed the damaged and aberrant cancer cells at a rate double those of humans. Schiffman’s lab is also working deeply with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, which is a rare hereditary disorder that ups the risk of certain cancers. Comparing the cells of normal people, people with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome and elephants found that Elephant killed the cancer cells at a rate five times that of people with the above syndrome.