I learned this morning that one of my favorite actors died of cancer. Alan Rickman, best known for his role as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series, passed away this morning at the age of 69.
This news is not only sad because the world has lost another wonderfully talented actor, it is disappointing that Rickman's life ended so early. After David Bowie's death on Jan. 10, this news seems almost eerie. Bowie, who was battling liver cancer, also passed away at 69.
Now that we're all feeling down, let's move on to a happier note. The reason this celebrity news is on my elephant blog is due to a fascinating recent discovery: elephant don't get cancer.
As fantastic as this seems, it's true. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (you know, the one that's retiring its elephants) has established a Center for Elephant Conservation down in Florida. This center, where their elephants retire, not only works to help conservation efforts of elephants across the globe, it's also partnering with researchers to fight cancer.
What have they found out? Well, elephants almost never get cancer, despite the presence of more cells in their body than humans. According to the center's findings, less than 5 percent of elephants contract cancer, compared to the human rate of 25 percent.
The core of this research is to look at elephant DNA and compare that with blood of humans, and that's where researchers found their answer. Apparently there's a key genetic link, called the P53 gene, that's responsible for protecting the body's cells from contracting cancer. While humans have only two copies of the gene, elephants have 40. Beyond this, the life span of an elephant cell is less than that of a human cell, which might also contribute to their immunity to cancer infection.
This discovery led to the establishment of the Ringling Bros. Children's Fund, to keep this research going so it may be applied to pediatric health and preventative measures for children that are at risk for developing cancer.
So while we are grieving for respected and celebrated members of society, let's not forget that elephants can and are helping to create a more healthy and hopeful future.
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.