Large mammals should have a greater risk of cancer than humans, given their bodies and longevity. According to the research of Oxford University’s epidemiologist Richard Peto, cancer is less likely, although larger cells have the potential to exponentially turn into more cells. Now, researchers believe they know why, and they say it can be an example for people.
Senior co-author Osh Elephants are 100 times the size of people, J says Joshua Schiffman. They should all be dying of cancer and endangered. But they have fewer cancers, ”he says. Most people have two copies of a gene encoding p53 (a cancer-fighting protein, which Schiffman calls the “protector of the genome”). People with Li-Fraumeni, a hereditary cancer susceptibility syndrome, have only one copy instead of two to code for this protein. This cell can act to repair damage or destroy a cell that is on its way to becoming cancerous. Schiffman said people with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome had a 100% risk of developing cancer during their lifetime.
Elephants have 40 copies of the gene that constitutes p53. Schiffman said that the number of people is only two. He and senior author Carlo Maley, an evolutionary biologist at Arizona State University, put forward the theory that elephants’ p53 will repair cancerous or transforming cells at a higher rate than that of humans.
The next step was to see if p53 would work across species. Mouse cells appear to develop cancer resistance when extra copies of the p53 gene are given. Now in the lab, Schiffman said that elephants took their p53 and transferred it to Li-Fraumeni cells to see what happened. He believes that there may be a drug that can mimic the effect of P53 and can use these genes to treat the disease in people at risk of developing cancer or in people who are already sick. He hopes to do a clinical trial in the next three to five years.