Scientists at the University of Utah are looking closer at elephants, trying to understand why these massive animals do not suffer from cancer nearly as much as humans do. Humans have 37 trillion cells in their body, and a 11-25% death from cancer rate, whereas elephants have over a quadrillion cells in their bodies and a death from cancer rate of about 5%. Considering elephants have over 100 times as many cells as humans, theoretically, elephants should be getting cancer much more frequently.
These scientists believe the elephants ability to avoid cancer has something to do with the P53 gene. Humans have a single P53 gene, and it is known to suppress tumors and coordinate cell death. The gene is evident in many species, such as elephants. Whereas humans have one P53 gene, elephants have at least twenty copies of the P53 gene. The current hypothesis about why the P53 gene helps elephants stay cancer free comes from an experiment that involved exposing human and elephant blood to radiation. More elephant cells died than human cells when exposed, so the scientists believe the increased number of P53 genes are telling the cells to die rather than live with the radiation.
This new development could make a huge difference in cancer research. The P53 gene was already known to be a tumor suppressant, but if it could be confirmed that an increased number of this gene, lowers the risk of cancer, maybe more research could be done to find a strategy of treating cancer in humans.