The irony is truly crushing. Elephants may be the key to eradicating cancer in humans, according to new research. Yet, humans continue to wipe out elephants to fuel Chinese ivory and herbal medicine markets. More elephants were poisoned this week and four rangers protecting them were murdered. These same criminals like the recently arrested Chinese “Ivory Queen” could well benefit from the cancer key found in elephants . . . assuming they leave any alive for study.
The study by Joshua Schiffman, M.D., a pediatric oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, the University of Utah School of Medicine and the Primary Children’s Hospital appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They looked at why elephants rarely get cancer and zeroed in on a cancer-destroying mechanism involving a gene that encodes for the tumor suppressor protein p53. It could lead to a true miracle cure. The cancer mortality rate in elephants is less than 5 percent as opposed to 11–25 percent in people.
Elephants have at least 40 copies of genes that code for p53 while humans have just two. Two other animals that are nearly cancer-free are the naked mole rat and the bowhead whale.
In the meantime, humans seem to be continuing a determined effort to wipe out the remaining elephants. Fourteen elephants were poisoned by poachers with cyanide in Zimbabwe. The poachers also killed a variety of other animals who also ate the poison. Five have been arrested.
In the meantime, four rangers and an Army colonel were killed in the Congo when they tracked the radio collar of a killed elephant to the camp of the poachers.
It makes one wonder if the elephants would think we were really worth saving from cancer.