Cancer Rare in Elephants: 38 Extra Copies of p53 Tumor Suppressor Gene May Be Why

Why elephants rarely get cancer is a mystery that has stumped scientists for decades. Now, a study led by researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah and Arizona State University, and including researchers from the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, may have found the answer. According to the results, published online on October 8, 2015 in an open-access article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and determined over the course of several years and in a unique collaboration between HCI, Primary Children's Hospital, Utah's Hogle Zoo, and the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, elephants have 38 additional modified copies of a gene that encodes p53, a well-defined tumor suppressor, as compared to humans, who have only two. Further, elephants may have a more robust mechanism for killing damaged cells that are at risk for becoming cancerous. In isolated elephant cells, this activity is doubled compared to healthy human cells, and five times that of cells from patients with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, who have only one working copy of p53 and more than a 90 percent lifetime cancer risk in children and adults. The results suggest extra p53 could explain elephants' enhanced resistance to cancer. The JAMA article is titled “Potential Mechanisms for Cancer Resistance in Elephants and Comparative Cellular Response to DNA Damage in Humans.” An JAMA open-access editorial accompanies the research report (see links to both articles below)."Nature has already figured out how to prevent cancer.
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