Elephants and Cancer Research

Elephants and Cancer Research

Humans have made great strides in fighting all kinds of cancers, but it still is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Changing your diet, exercising, taking supplements, reducing stress and protecting yourself from environmental toxins are all valiant attempts at cancer prevention, but for some it is not enough.

This is when science often turns to nature. Through scores of research projects, various anomalies in the natural world have shown great promise in battling many cancers. One of these anomalies is the fact that elephants rarely, if ever, develop cancer.

Scientists are now studying these gentle giants to see if they could figure out how to implement their natural cancer fighting capability into humans.

According to researcher Dr. Joshua Schiffman at the University of Utah,

“Nature has already figured out how to prevent cancer,…It’s up to us to learn how different animals tackle the problem so we can adapt those strategies to prevent cancer in people.”

The Bigger They Come the Harder They Fall

Scientists have long considered that the larger an organism is, the more chances it will have of developing cancer. It makes sense because when there are more cells, there are more chances for disease infiltration. However, when elephants were studied, this theory seems to be turned on its head.

“Analysis of a large database of elephant deaths estimates a cancer mortality rate of less than 5 percent compared to 11 to 25 percent in people.” (University of Utah)

Amazing DNA 

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the building block of life. These molecules carry the codes for human development, functioning and reproduction. Cancer infiltrates these delicate, essential strands of DNA and attempts to mutate them into uncontrollable division and growth.

It turns out that elephants hold “38 additional modified copies (alleles) of a gene that encodes p53, a well-defined tumor suppressor, as compared to humans, who have only two.” (University of Utah)

In addition, elephants have been found to be able to destroy cancer cells before they get started. In the lab, white blood cells drawn from elephants during routine wellness checks were exposed to DNA damaging cancer cells and scientists were amazed at the reaction; the cells committed suicide.

Dr. Schiffman comments,

“It’s as if the elephants said, ‘It’s so important that we don’t get cancer, we’re going to kill this cell and start over fresh,…If you kill the damaged cell, it’s gone, and it can’t turn into cancer. This may be more effective of an approach to cancer prevention than trying to stop a mutated cell from dividing and not being able to completely repair itself.”

Save Elephants, Save Humans

As elephants continue to remain in harms way by ivory poachers and captivity business, their anatomical cancer fighting anomaly could be saving humans. It is a dichotomy that has played out throughout man’s encroachment on the natural world for thousands of years.

At $65,000.00 per year to maintain an elephant, Ringling Brothers circus has recently announced that they will phase out using the animals completely by 2018.

Finances aside, this decision was really due to the result of years of exhaustive protestor movements by animal rights activists in response to poor treatment of these gentle giants.

The elephants will be retired to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Florida where they will be cared for humanely while at the same time studied for their cancer fighting capabilities.

Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle comments to National Public Radio (NPR) that,

“…he believed the change in Feld’s [Ringling Bros. executive Vice President] long-held stance for keeping the animals in the show resulted from the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which led to intense scrutiny of SeaWorld and its treatment of captive killer whales. He said the documentary had led an “emerging consciousness within the public about the proper treatment of animals.”

Pacelle compares this change to “almost like the [fall of] the Berlin Wall within the animal welfare [community],” and believes that other business leaders in the captivity industry will follow suit.

In addition, ivory poachers are also being found and prosecuted with one tenacious reporter going as far as constructing fake tusks with embedded GPS tracking to find this illegal trade.

Plus, Hong Kong, one of the largest enabler and purchaser of ivory tusks has announced its intention to take steps to phase out ivory sales.

Elephants and cancer research is another example of the many cures the natural world may offer us. As long as we open our eyes and cease destroying so much nature in our path, we may be able to embrace it rather than extinguish it at our peril.