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Tumours in fossil dinosaur tail shows it suffered from a painful cancer that afflicts humans today 

Tumours found in 60-million-year-old fossilised dinosaur tail shows the prehistoric reptiles suffered from a painful CANCER that afflicts humans to this day

  • Cavities in the tailbone of the hadrosaur had been formed by tumour growth 
  • The animal is thought to have had ‘Langerhans cell histiocytosis’, or LCH
  • This rare cancer is known in modern humans and particularly in children
  • It originates in special cells that fight infection but can spread around the body

Tumours found in a 60-million-year-old fossilised dinosaur tail shows that the ancient reptiles suffered from a painful form of cancer that afflicts humans to this day.

The bones of the hadrosaur — which lived in what is today southern Alberta, Canada — reveal it had a disorder known as ‘Langerhans cell histiocytosis’, or LCH.

Today, this condition is rare among humans, but is more common in children between the ages of five and 10 years old.

The cancer — which begins in special cells that help fight infection — can lead to tissue damage and lesions across the body, with symptoms varying with location.

Tumours found in a 60-million-year-old fossilised dinosaur tail (pictured) shows that the ancient reptiles suffered from a painful disease that afflicts humans to this today

WHAT IS LCH? 

LCH, of ‘Langerhans cell histiocytosis’, is a rare type of cancer.

It originates in special cells that help to to fight off infections.

The cells end up growing and multiplying too quickly and they can form lesions and damage tissues across the body. 

The condition is rare among humans, but is more common in children between the ages of 5–10 years old.

It affects around 50 children in the UK each year. 

The dinosaur’s disease was identified and described by a team of researchers led by biologist Hila May of the Tel Aviv University.

‘[My colleagues] spotted an unusual finding in the vertebrae of a tail of a young dinosaur of the grass-eating herbivore species, common in the world 66-80 million years ago,’ said Dr May. 

‘There were large cavities in two of the vertebrae segments, which were unearthed at the Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta, Canada.

‘They were extremely similar to the cavities produced by tumours associated with the rare disease LCH that still exists today in humans,’ Dr May added. 

‘Most of the LCH-related tumours, which can be very painful, suddenly appear in the bones of children aged 2–10 years. Thankfully, these tumours disappear without intervention in many cases.’

To investigate the tumour-made cavities in the dinosaur tail bones, the fossils were sent for micro-CT scanning at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

‘The micro-CT produces very high-resolution imaging, up to a few microns,’  explained Dr May.

‘We scanned the dinosaur vertebrae and created a computerised three-dimensional reconstruction of the tumour and the blood vessels that fed it.’

‘The micro and macro analyses confirmed that it was, in fact, LCH. This is the first time this disease has been identified in a dinosaur.’ 

LCH is rare among humans, but is more common in children between the ages of five and 10 years old. The cancer — which begins in special cells that fight infection — can lead to tissue damage and lesions across the body, with symptoms varying based on its location. Pictured, lesions caused by LCH in a human vertebrae

LCH is rare among humans, but is more common in children between the ages of five and 10 years old. The cancer — which begins in special cells that fight infection — can lead to tissue damage and lesions across the body, with symptoms varying based on its location. Pictured, lesions caused by LCH in a human vertebrae

'We scanned the dinosaur vertebrae and created a computerised three-dimensional reconstruction of the tumour and the blood vessels that fed it,' said Dr May. 'The micro and macro analyses confirmed that it was, in fact, LCH. Pictured, the micro-CT scans of the fossil

‘We scanned the dinosaur vertebrae and created a computerised three-dimensional reconstruction of the tumour and the blood vessels that fed it,’ said Dr May. ‘The micro and macro analyses confirmed that it was, in fact, LCH. Pictured, the micro-CT scans of the fossil

‘These kinds of studies, which are now possible thanks to innovative technology, make an important and interesting contribution to evolutionary medicine,’ said Tel Aviv University anthropologist Israel Hershkovitz, who was not part of the study.

Evolutionary medicine, he explained, is ‘a relatively new field of research that investigates the development and behaviour of diseases over time.’

‘We are trying to understand why certain diseases survive evolution, with an eye to deciphering what causes them in order to develop new and effective ways of treating them.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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