Elephants "detect rogue cells before cancer develops"

Two Elephants saying hello

Elephants have an "in-built alarm system" that detects damaged cells before they develop into cancer. That's the finding of scientists at the University of Utah, who say that "nature has already figured out how to prevent cancer" in the creatures.

You might think that because every cell can become cancerous, the more of them you have, the more likely you are to get cancer – yet only 5% of elephants die from cancer, compared to up to 25% of people.

Researchers looked at the DNA of elephants and found that they have an "alarm system" which can detect mutations in a cell, leading to it being either repaired or killed. The animals have 20 alarm genes called TP53, while humans have only one TP53 gene.

Researcher Dr Joshua Schiffman said: "By all logical reasoning, elephants should be developing a tremendous amount of cancer, and in fact, should be extinct by now due to such a high risk for cancer.

"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."

However, Professor Mel Greaves, from the Institute of Cancer Research, believes humans are completely unique as a species in leading unhealthy lives and continuing with cancer-causing behaviours, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating badly, not exercising enough and sunbathing.

"In terms of adaptive mechanisms against cancer we have the same as a chimp, but we get a lot more cancer than a chimp," he told the BBC News website.

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