Ancient blight

Israeli researchers find modern tumor in dinosaur tail

Scientists say LCH, which affects human children today, discovered in fossil of 66-million-year-old Hadrosaurus

Illustrative: A Hadrosaurus at Drexel University in Philadelphia. (YouTube screenshot)
Illustrative: A Hadrosaurus at Drexel University in Philadelphia. (YouTube screenshot)

Tel Aviv University researchers have confirmed that a dinosaur who lived over 66 million years ago suffered from a rare benign tumor that affects humans today, the university said.

The university said the discovery was significant for the study of the development of diseases over time, which could eventually help cure them.

Researchers from the US and Canada studying the fossilized tail of a dinosaur discovered in Canada noticed that the bones contained “large cavities, evidently created by tumors, in two tail vertebrae of a young dinosaur,” said Dr. Hila May of the Dept. of Anatomy & Anthropology and the Dan David Center for Human Evolution at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

“The dinosaur belonged to the genus Hadrosaurus, also known as ‘duck-billed dinosaurs’ — herbivores common almost all over the world about 66-80 million years ago.”

The researchers suspected that the specific shape of the cavities could indicate they were created by the tumor known as LCH (Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis), which is known to appear in children under 10 years old and causes great pain, though it is not usually life threatening.

The fossils were sent to Tel Aviv University, which is equipped with an advanced micro-CT scanner.

“The micro-CT scanner generates images with a very high resolution of up to a few microns,” May said.

“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.”

Prof. Israel Hershkovitz from the Dan David Center, the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, said such research “contributes a great deal to Evolutionary Medicine — a relatively new field of research which investigates the development and behavior of diseases over time.

“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.”

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