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Why Elephants Rarely Get Cancer and What it Could Mean for Us


36809880_s (2) One out of every four people dies of cancer, whereas only one of every 20 elephants dies of cancer. What is it about elephants that protects them from the dreaded disease? They have 20 pairs of cancer-fighting genes, while people have only one pair. What could this mean to us someday?

Key to Cancer May Be p53 Gene

The cancer-fighting genes called p53 helps damaged cells either to self-destruct or to repair themselves when exposed to carcinogens. Dr. Joshua Schiffman, the leader of one of the study’s two teams, started research in this area after hearing about Peto’s paradox a few years ago. This phenomenon refers to the fact that large animal species have lower cancer rates than smaller ones even though they have more cells. Schiffman had patients with incomplete p53 genes associated with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a condition that involves a 90 percent lifetime risk of developing cancer. After pondering on the paradox and his patients with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, he decided to explore the role of the genes through studying the blood of elephants and other animals.

Elephant Cells Exposed to Carcinogens Self-Destructed at Twice the Rate of Human Cells

Schiffman’s team and another group of scientists found that many other animal species have only one pair of p53 genes but elephants had 20 pairs. The next step of the study was to expose the cells of elephants as well as cells of healthy humans and cells of Li-Fraumeni patients to radiation. The elephant cells self-destructed at a rate of two times that of healthy human cells and five times that of Li-Fraumeni patients’ cells. This was an important finding because cells that don’t self-destruct or self-repair when exposed to cancer-causing agents are likely to become cancerous.

The results got even more interesting when the team inserted the p53 genes into mouse cells. Afterwards, when the cells were exposed to DNA-damaging drugs, they self-destructed just like the elephant cells. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Schiffman and his team hope one day this discovery will lead to a drug that mimics the actions of the genes. In the future, the researchers would like to evaluate possible cancer treatments based on the elephant research. Human studies won’t be conducted for several years, but “we certainly think we’ve found something very intriguing,” says Schiffman.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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One response to “Why Elephants Rarely Get Cancer and What it Could Mean for Us”

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