I just returned home from the Li-Fraumeni Syndrome conference held in Boston this past weekend. Besides the joy of getting together with friends that I know and love and meeting new people, I listened enrapt to the researchers who presented their updates on studying the DNA of humans and even elephants.
Did you know that elephants don’t get cancer? Apparently they have evolved to have 23 pairs of the p53 gene with is the major tumor suppressor of the genome. They have ‘super suppression’ of cancer. Their DNA takes care of what their immune system cannot. This phenomenon has given rise to “Peto’s Paradox’ and is similar in whales. The paradox is that much larger mammals, having many more cells that can mutate, would be expected to have even more incidence of cancer, yet they don’t. They also reproduce less frequently, which may have offered them some protection over the course of millennia. (Kind of makes you wonder if we will eventually become extinct from cancer and our rate of reproduction.)
Dr. Josh Schiffman of the Huntsman Cancer Center in Salt Lake City Utah, who spoke at the conference, is studying the DNA of Asian elephants, and specifically this abundance of p53. He is asking the question: how this may help in correcting the mutated genes and the possibilities for cancer prevention in humans. As a wonk, nerd or whatever, I thoroughly enjoyed the presentations on retrogenes, theories on chromothripsis (see: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v470/n7335/fig_tab/470476a_F1.html), telomeres and another new term, ‘sonic hedge hog’ mutations. Continue Reading…