Do Animals Hold The Key to Understanding Cancer?

According to a story from, some cancer researchers are beginning to look at the animal kingdom in order to find new answers for finding what it takes to beat cancer. Considering the way that cancer is discussed, it is often overlooked that it is not a condition that only affects humans. Many animals are vulnerable to types of cancer that appear in humans.

Researchers have found that jaguars, for example, are susceptible to breast cancer. Scientists suspect that some jaguars may carry the BRCA1 mutation that can predispose some people to the development of breast and ovarian cancer. Leukemia, or blood cancer, has been detected in rhinos in captivity.

“Man’s best friend”, the dog, is also vulnerable to certain types of cancer. This partially due to the abnormal genetic profiles of purebred dogs that can make them more vulnerable to certain diseases. In an interesting overlap between the medical and veterinary fields, the drug rapamycin, which has been used for many years to prevent the rejection of organ transplants, is being tested in dogs to see if it can prevent osteosarcoma. This bone cancer affects humans and dogs, but tends to appear in dogs more frequently. Success would mean new research in order to see if the drug or something similar could have benefits for human patients.

There is also much to be learned from animals that appear to be practically immune to cancer. Elephants, naked mole rats, and bowhead whales are all relatively long lived species, and this longevity can be at least partially linked to their lack of vulnerability to cancer.

Research has found that elephants are able to shake off cancer because they have extra copies of a powerful tumor suppressor gene that destroys any tumors before they can develop. For naked mole rats, they appear to be protected from cancer because of a sugar called hyaluronan that is released by their cells. This sugar is also responsible for their unique skin.

Early research has already started testing the effects of inserting the elephant gene into humans, and so far the results have some potential. However, it will be a long time before any treatment or cures will be derived from the gene and much more study is necessary. Nevertheless, researching cancer in animals could be an essential step in discovering more surefire methods of controlling cancer in all its forms.

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