One of the few animals that can resist cancer is elephants. Naked Mole Rats and Sharks are also found to resist cancer. However, the discovery of this characteristic in elephants is recent and researchers look for ways to understand and apply the concept of cancer resistance in elephants to human biology.
Scientists from the University of Chicago have discovered a specific gene that prevents cells in elephants from developing cancer, called LIF6. The cells activate LIF6 if any sort of damage takes place in the cells. LIF6 has the ability to break down the mitochondria of these cells, killing them eventually. This way dead cells do not pass on the DNA and cancer fails to spread.
The gene LIF6 is unique to elephants, however, it can be made to work in other animals. The researchers tested the workings of this gene in mice with cancer and surprisingly, the gene worked and the cells were killed before the cancer could spread. Hence, elephants promise further fruitful researches.
As for the sharks, they also have genetic defenses against cancer. Naked mole rats are capable of producing a molecule in between their cells that gives them more flexibility in the underground tunnels. This molecule also serves to work against cancer and make them immune to it. But, so far, these mechanisms in sharks and naked mole rats, do not work against cancer in humans, in fact, they worsen the outcomes. The reason behind this phenomenon is yet unknown.
Now the next target subject for the researchers is elephants. Researchers are looking to test LIF6 in humans because if it works in elephants and treated cancer in mice, hopefully, its beneficial effects can be projected into human biology!