I recently read this non-peer reviewed article that states that the prevalence of cancer in crocodiles or elephants is really low, much lower than humans. It is said below

A team of researchers in the US looked closer, and found an abundance of a gene called TP53. This gene is known for its ability to repair damaged DNA and thus halt the spread of cancer, and it's some 20 times more common in elephants than it is in human beings. It appears elephants have developed more of these genes as they've evolved, in part to protect calves born to older mothers

"These findings, if replicated, could represent an evolutionary-based approach for understanding mechanisms related to cancer suppression," says the report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Naked mole rats are even more miraculous - they never develop cancer, even when scientists try and induce it artificially. What appears to be happening, at least according to a recent study, is that the mole rats are using natural mechanisms to clamp down on the spread of cancer and fight back against the mutation.


So why is it that these genes cannot be transferred from animals to humans? Maybe when the baby is at fetus stage? What are the current problems/limitations and if possible, how would scientists transfer these genes? My logic is that since mice and elephants are both mammals, it should not be too hard to achieve this.


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While this research is interesting and might help curing cancer at some point, it's not a ground breaking revelation.

The gene in question here is TP53, coding for the very-well known tumor supressor protein p53. Humans do have this gene, but apparently elephants hav acquired multiple copies of it (~20) during evolution and that might explain why they don't get cancer so easily.

The problem of testing this is not a technical one. Using modern genetic engineering methods it should be fairly easy to multiply the gene in human or mice embryos, or introduce the additional variants from the elephants. Someone might already be planning to do that in mice.

For use on humans however, this is highly unethical. Without proof that these gene copies actually prevent cancer (and one observational study is not a proof), you can't just use a new medical treatment. Secondly this treatment would require genetic modification of an embryo (because its actually cancer prevention, not acute treatment) and that is illegal almost everywhere on earth (even genetic modification of somatic tissue for cancer treatment is just now becoming an experimental therapy).

  • $\begingroup$ Putting All moral issues aside, what would be the answer to by question? $\endgroup$ – user35897 Sep 7 '17 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ There may be pleiotropic effects of these genes that are damaging to humans. So, for that reason, it is a technical issue. It is an ethical issue largely because it is still a technical issue and would require experimentation (on mice). $\endgroup$ – sterid Sep 8 '17 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ @user35897: Have a look at this article: nature.com/news/2009/090520/full/news.2009.493.html. Cancer suppression might be just one effect. $\endgroup$ – Ashafix Sep 10 '17 at 0:24

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