Elephant Genes Hold Clues for Fight Against Cancer

Unique Cancer Research Study and Funding Effort Launched at Primary Children's Hospital.

Why elephants rarely get cancer is a mystery that has stumped scientists for decades. A new study led by Joshua Schiffman, MD, a pediatric oncologist at Primary Children's Hospital, may have found the answer. His research, which received funding from Intermountain Foundation and Primary Chidlren's Foundation, was published recently in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) by Dr. Schiffman.

Dr. Schiffman and the team from Primary Children’s Hospital, the Department of Pediatrics, and the Huntsman Cancer Institute, all in Salt Lake City, Utah, are studying why there is such a low incidence of cancer in elephants, what makes this cancer resistance possible in elephants and not in humans, and how this may correlate to new treatments for pediatric cancers.

More than 16,000 children and teenagers are diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States, meanwhile elephants experience almost no cancer over their lifetimes. Dr. Schiffman; Dr. Dennis Schmitt, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Chair of Veterinary Services and Director of Research; and Dr. Wendy Kiso, Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation Research and Conservation Scientist; and other scientific collaborators on their team; recently confirmed that elephants rarely develop cancer with a mortality rate of less than 5% compared to up to 25% in humans. Looking at the elephant genome, they described that elephants have 40 copies of a tumor suppressor gene named TP53 compared to only two copies in humans.

Working with Utah's Hogle Zoo and the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, Dr. Schiffman and colleagues studied the response of elephant blood to DNA damaging agents and discovered that elephant cells more rapidly undergo cell death compared to human cells. Dr. Schiffman believes this may be why elephants develop less cancer than humans. The study’s full findings have been published in the new edition of the Journal of American Medical Association.

"With this partnership between Ringling Bros. and Primary Children’s Hospital, we are now exploring how to apply these discoveries to children and families most at risk to develop cancer," said Dr. Schiffman. "We want to use these lessons from nature to prevent, develop early recognition tools, and treat cancer in humans."

Applying the translational research around cancer – the findings from the basic science that enhance human health and well-being by improving medical and nursing practices and creating meaningful health outcomes – could pave the way for an entirely new frontier of cancer research and treatment, from the laboratory bench, to the bedside.

“Twenty years ago, we founded the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant for Conservation in order to preserve the endangered Asian elephant for future generations. Little did we know then that they may hold the key to cancer treatment and we’re tremendously excited to be a part of it,” said Kenneth Feld, Chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment.

As part of the partnership with Primary Children’s Hospital, the Department of Pediatrics and Dr. Schiffman, the Ringling Bros. Children’s Fund and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will be donating more than $1 million to support cancer research and to care for children. In the next 50 cities Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey visits, Ringling Bros. will donate $10,000 to a local children’s hospital or treatment center and the Ringling Bros. Children’s Fund will match each donation with an additional $10,000 donation to the Primary Children’s Hospital Foundation to support the PCH Pediatric Cancer Research Program. This program, which helped support the elephant research, focuses on novel approaches to prevention, diagnosis and improving the value of pediatric cancer care.

“This ongoing partnership to raise funds for research with Ringling Bros. enables us to assist in new cancer treatment protocols, that provide a more innovative and integrated approach to cancer treatment, and provide better long-term outcomes and support families through long-term care,” says Richard Lemons, MD, PhD, medical director and chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at Primary Children's Hospital. Dr. Lemons oversees the PCH Pediatric Cancer Research Program.

“Cancer affects so many families across this county, and unfortunately it’s becoming more common, especially among children. We’re hopeful that our research will lead to new prospects for improved treatments for pediatric cancer,” says Katy Welkie, CEO of Primary Children’s Hospital.

News of the research and donations has been covered in top media outlets. The public is invited to help support pediatric cancer research fund by donating to:
Help Primary Children's Hospital and Ringling Bros. Beat Pediatric Cancer

About Feld Entertainment

Feld Entertainment is the worldwide leader in producing and presenting live touring family entertainment experiences that lift the human spirit and create indelible memories, with 30 million people in attendance at its shows each year. Feld Entertainment's productions have appeared in more than 75 countries and on six continents to date and include Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®, Monster Jam®, Monster Energy Supercross, AMSOIL Arenacross, Disney On Ice Presented by StonyfieldYoKids Organic Yogurt, Disney Live! Presented by StonyfieldYoKids Organic Yogurt and Marvel Universe LIVE! More information about Feld Entertainment is available online at www.feldentertainment.com. More information on the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation is available at www.ringlingelephantcenter.com.

About Primary Children’s Hospital

Primary Children's Hospital is the only full-service children's hospital for Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and Montana providing care for children with the most complex injury and illness, including those who require heart, liver, kidney and bone marrow transplants. Primary Children’s is the only Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center in the Intermountain West. It is owned by Intermountain Healthcare, a not-for-profit healthcare system, and is affiliated with the University of Utah School of Medicine, which brings together research, training and excellent care to provide the best health care for children. Donations are administered by Primary Children’s Hospital Foundation, a separately incorporated public charity under IRS Code 501(c)(3). The foundation supports the hospital’s goals of providing the highest level of pediatric care in an atmosphere of love and concern.

Unique pediatric cancer research study and funding effort launched by Primary Children's Hospital and Ringling Bros.