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Cancer-Free Elephants

October 15, 2015

Elephants have a surprisingly low cancer rate.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Cancer-free elephants. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Elephants are massive—a hundred times the size of people—and live into their sixties. Huntsman Cancer Institute pediatric oncologist Joshua Schiffman says so much cell division over so many years should mean high cancer rates.

JOSHUA SCHIFFMAN (Huntsman Cancer Institute):

One would expect that all elephants should be developing cancer and dying from cancer within their lifetime.

HIRSHON:

Actually, elephants rarely get cancer. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, Schiffman reports a possible reason why: elephants have forty copies of the gene p53, which tells cancerous cells to self-destruct. Humans have only two copies, so Schiffman is now working out how to give humans more. His pediatric patients get excited hearing the idea.

SCHIFFMAN:

The kids are smiling and laughing and talking about how they can’t wait to visit the zoo to see these elephants that may one day help prevent getting cancer.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.