APR 14, 2020 2:57 PM PDT

How Deer Antlers Can Teach Us About Cancer Treatment

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Deer, cows, and goats are part of a diverse group of mammalians called ruminants. A study of their evolutionary relationship and genetics that was performed last year and reported in Science has also revealed more about the unique headgear that grows on deer. This growth parallels that of cancer, so these findings may provide insight into cancer prevention and treatment.

Deer antlers are very unusual; they are the only organ found in mammals that regenerates. The cells that antlers are made of can proliferate rapidly, enabling antlers to grow really quickly. This kind of rapid growth is also seen in cancer. The speed of antler growth even outpaces that of cancerous tumors, the research found. In red deer, for example, antlers grow at a rate of about 1.7 centimeters per day. So why are deer able to grow antlers incredibly fast, but they don't get cancer in the process?

Gene expression in deer can help explain how this happens, and these insights may also can teach us more about cancer. In deer, a gene called FOS is very active. But this is also a known oncogene (in humans, it's called c-Fos) - and it's a gene that can cause cancer just by being overactive. It would typically be necessary for a multitude of changes to build up over time in different genes to cause cancer. That isn't even the only gene that can lead to cancer that is overexpressed in deer.

It seems that deer are able to keep cancer from developing because of other genes, one of which is called p53. This gene is known as a tumor suppressor and has been called the Guardian of the Genome because it checks the genome for damage (which can lead to cancer). If damage is found, the p53 protein calls in repair molecules. The p53 gene was first thought of as an oncogene because it is mutated so frequently in cancerous tumors; it turned out that if mutations prevent p53 from doing its critical job, cancer arises.

Deer have proteins that help p53 get its job done, as well as carrying other tumor-suppressing genes that are only expressed in the antlers. As they evolved, this allowed deer to keep their antlers, which were advantageous for social and mating reasons, while preventing them from developing into cancer.

Sources: Gerontology, Science

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUL 13, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
New Therapeutic Targets For Lupus Are Identified
JUL 13, 2020
New Therapeutic Targets For Lupus Are Identified
Advances in computational and genetic technologies have enabled scientists to search the genome to look for places where ...
AUG 11, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Scientists Discover Key Gene Behind Antibiotic Resistance
AUG 11, 2020
Scientists Discover Key Gene Behind Antibiotic Resistance
Scientists from Oxford University have shown that a single gene can make some strains of Staphylococcus aureus (the bact ...
AUG 23, 2020
Cardiology
Gaining Insight Into a Mysterious Network of Fibers in the Heart
AUG 23, 2020
Gaining Insight Into a Mysterious Network of Fibers in the Heart
Leonardo da Vinci knew about a mesh, fibrous network surrounding the heart, and after hundreds of years, scientists are ...
AUG 30, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Brown Fat Transplants Could Reduce Metabolic Disease
AUG 30, 2020
Brown Fat Transplants Could Reduce Metabolic Disease
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in 2018, obesity impacted about 42% of American adul ...
SEP 18, 2020
Coronavirus
How Coronavirus Spread in the US and Europe
SEP 18, 2020
How Coronavirus Spread in the US and Europe
Researchers are beginning to examine how the world's response to the pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2 went wrong, and right ...
SEP 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Errors in the Nuclear Envelope Linked to Microcephaly
SEP 20, 2020
Errors in the Nuclear Envelope Linked to Microcephaly
Researchers have found that errors in a gene called LMNB1, which produces the lamin B1 protein, have devastating effects ...
Loading Comments...