Can Researchers Harness the Evolutionary Advantage of Cancer Resistance in Elephants?

In 2017, Joshua Schiffman, MD, a pediatric oncologist and researcher at Huntsman Cancer Institute, received an Animal Cancer Foundation Comparative Oncology Grant Award for early-stage research of Elephant p53, a protein that seemed to keep elephants from developing cancer.  ACF’s scientific advisory council and executive board believed that this early proof-of-concept grant would reap future rewards in breakthroughs for treating cancer and could be poised to attract large institutional funders.

That’s why we are delighted that Dr. Schiffman’s original research has moved forward.  In a recent academic article in Cell Death Discovery (a Nature journal), the research team from Huntsman Cancer Institute published first-time data that shows that the expression of truncated elephant p53 retrogene protein induces apoptosis (cell death) in human cancer cells.  The work leads to a better understanding of the molecular mechanism by which elephant p53 retrogenes function and may provide evolutionary insight that can be utilized for the new approaches to treat cancer in people.  The work is cutting-edge and meets ACF’s funding goal of advancing research through the pipeline where it can attract large scale investment.  Dr. Schiffman and his team are now working through Peel (“Elephant”) Therapeutics to develop other nature-inspired medicines, too.

If you’d like to hear Dr. Schiffman discussing his work, listen to his interview with CBS News at this link: