Study: Elephants may hold cancer cure clues

In this Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 photo, an elephant crosses a road in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, about 700 kilometres south west of Harare. Cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans, even though the big beasts' bodies have many more cells. That's a paradox known among scientists, and now researchers think they may have an explanation. In results published Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared with other species, elephants' cells contain many more copies of a major cancer-suppressing gene that helps damaged cells repair themselves or self-destruct when exposed to cancer-causing substances. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
In this Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 photo, an elephant crosses a road in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, about 700 kilometres south west of Harare. Cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans, even though the big beasts' bodies have many more cells. That's a paradox known among scientists, and now researchers think they may have an explanation. In results published Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared with other species, elephants' cells contain many more copies of a major cancer-suppressing gene that helps damaged cells repair themselves or self-destruct when exposed to cancer-causing substances. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

(CNN) — Clues leading to a cure for cancer in humans may come from an unlikely source — elephants.

New research is out from a study looking at why elephants rarely get cancer. Biologists say the massive mammals have a cancer rate of just five percent — compared to about 25 percent in people.

Scientists found elephants have at least 40 extra genes that stop tumors long before they form. The special genes detect damaged cells and repair or kill them. Without the genes, the animals would rarely live to their typical old age of 50 to 70 years.

Humans, in comparison, have only two genes of that type.

Researchers say the discovery could lead to more effective cancer treatment in humans.

The study involved teams from the University of Utah and Arizona State University and is published in this week’s edition of JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

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