Elephants Don’t Get Cancer. Here’s Why.

Image: Wikipedia

While theoretically larger animals with more cells should be more predisposed to cancer — research shows elephants are hardly ever affected.

Cancer is created when mistakes are made in cell reproduction, resulting in mutation and subsequent division of harmful, mutated cells that eventually take over the body. It can be theorized that the larger animal, the more cells its body contains, and the more likely it is to get cancer.

However, studies show there is no increased prevalence of cancer in larger animal species. Scientists have dubbed this phenomenon the Peto paradox. Elephants are a prominent example of this anomaly and have been thoroughly studied by researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah in conjunction with local zoos.

A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed astonishing results.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The p53 gene is an important protein that serves as a cancer defense mechanism by monitoring and repairing damaged cells. Humans contain two copies of p53 except in the case of Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, where only one copy of the gene is present and affected individuals garner a 100% risk of getting cancer.

Researchers studying the elephant’s genome revealed over 20 copies of the tumor suppressant known as TP53, which creates p53 gene, present in their DNA. Two of them were similar to those found in humans while the others had distinct variations attributed to evolutionary development to target different areas within the body.

The more astonishing revelation was that many of these proteins were not performing mutated cell repair — but rather cell destruction. This eradication of harmful cells results in the elephant’s lower predisposition to cancer.  

The elephant’s genome has adapted a superior mechanism to evading cancer, and while our DNA is still one step behind, extensive efforts are being made to learn how to apply this cancerous adversary to human cells. 

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