A benign tumor identified in the tail of a young dinosaur that lived 60 million years ago might help address the same disease that still affects humans, and especially children.
A group of researchers from Tel Aviv University, led by Dr. Hila May from the Department of Anatomy & Anthropology and the Dan David Center for Human Evolution at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, identified a benign tumor called LCH (Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis) in the fossilized tail of a “duck-billed dinosaur” uncovered in Alberta, Canada, according to a paper published in Scientific Reports on Monday.
As explained in the study, the genus of “duck-billed dinosaurs,” or Hadrosaurus, was herbivore, and could weigh several tons and be longer than 10 meters. Scientists believe they lived in large herds between 60 million and 80 million years ago; their fossils are found all over the globe.
LCH is a rare benign tumor that primarily affects children ages 2 to 10, often causing bone pain.
Researchers were alerted about the presence of the tumor in the fossil because of some unusually-shaped cavities detected in two fossilized vertebrae, which were sent to the Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute at the Dan David Center to be inspected with its advanced micro-CT scanner.
“The micro-CT scanner generates images with a very high resolution of up to a few microns,” May explained according to the TAU press release.
“Using it to scan the dinosaur vertebrae, we were able to form a reconstructed 3D image of the tumor and the blood vessels leading to it. The image confirmed in a high probability that the dinosaur did indeed suffer from LCH. The surprising findings indicate that the disease is not unique to humans and that it existed in different species over 60 million years – through the long evolutionary process from dinosaurs to humans,” she added.
As explained in the study’s introduction, “disease occurrence in dinosaurs is very infrequent. When present, however, it can tell us about dinosaurs’ immune systems, metabolic disorders, growth and adaptation to a huge body mass, infections [and] environment, as well as shed light on their mating patterns and hunting techniques.”
The hope though is that the research can also help us to understand better and therefore cure diseases that, millions of years later, cause a great deal of human suffering.
“Research of this kind, made possible by current technology, contributes a great deal to Evolutionary Medicine – a relatively new field of research which investigates the development and behavior of diseases over time,” Prof. Israel Hershkovitz from the Dan David Center said in the release.
“Evolutionary Medicine researchers try to understand why certain diseases have survived through millions of years of evolution and to discover their source, in order to ultimately develop new and effective ways to address them today,” he added.
Besides for May, co-authors of the article are Prof. Bruce Rothschild of Indiana University; Prof. Frank Rühli of the University of Zurich; and Darren Tanke of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta.