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Aggressive cancer discovered in a dinosaur

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The beast is diagnosed about 77 million years after his death: he suffered from an aggressive form of bone cancer.

Cancer isn’t just a modern-day disease. Millions of years ago, animals could also suffer from it. Researchers have discovered an aggressive form of cancer in a dinosaur. The findings were published in the journal The Lancet Oncology

Fossil
The fossil remains of the dinosaur in question were already excavated in 1989 in the Provincial Dinosaur Park in the Canadian province of Alberta. Paleontologists turned out to be the remains of a real one Torosaurus to have encountered; a horned dinosaur that roamed the Earth some 76 to 77 million years ago. Their eye was already on the rather curiously shaped fibula. But this was dismissed as just a bone deformity, which likely represented a healing fracture.

The affected fibula with tumor of the horned dinosaur. Image: ROM

Diagnose
However, a new research team did not give up and decided to get the bottom stone about this special bone. The research was continued by a large group of specialists and experts using modern medical techniques. The team examined the fossilized bone from head to toe and approached the case in the same way that they would in a contemporary human patient with an unknown tumor. And now, tens of millions of years after its death, the dinosaur is still receiving a solid diagnosis: the beast suffered from an aggressive form of bone cancer.

Osteosarcoom
Specifically, the dinosaur suffered from osteosarcoma, a malignant bone tumor. Characteristic of this tumor is that the cancer cells produce so-called bone bark. Osteosarcoma is the most common bone tumor in humans and mainly occurs in young adults; the age peak is between 10 and 25 years. Often this cancer form is found in the upper arm or around the knee, near the growth plate.

After the bone was carefully examined, the researchers then placed it under the CT scanner. Then they cut the bone into thin slices which they viewed under the microscope. Using three-dimensional reconstruction techniques, the researchers managed to visualize the growth of the cancer through the bone. To confirm the diagnosis, the researchers also compared the fossil to a normal fibula of a dinosaur of the same species and a human patient with osteosarcoma. And this led to the conclusive conclusion that the dinosaur indeed suffered from advanced cancer that may have invaded other organs as well.

Rare
The findings are extremely rare. It is also the first time that a dinosaur has been diagnosed with bone cancer. “For a long time, identifying a malignant tumor like this one in dinosaurs has been impossible,” says researcher Mark Crowther. “Making a diagnosis requires medical expertise and multiple analyzes. But in our study, we found the unmistakable signs of advanced bone cancer in a 77 million-year-old horned dinosaur – the first of its kind. It is an exciting discovery. ”

Incidentally, it turns out that the dinosaur probably did not die of the disease. The fossil remains were found next to the remains of dozens of other species. The researchers therefore think that the herd was attacked by a flood. However, the tumor would have had an impact on the dinosaur. “The cancer has probably weakened the dinosaur significantly,” said David Evans. Moreover, it made him vulnerable to the predatory tyrannosaurs of the time. The fact that this sick, herbivorous dinosaur lived in a large, protected herd may have led to a longer life than is normally the case with such a nasty disease. ”

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