What the Ringling Brothers' retired elephants have to do with cancer research

When it comes to developing cancer, risk increases with body size and life span, according to the National Institutes of Health. This is because the more cells an organism has, and the longer the organism lives, the greater number of cell divisions it will undergo. Elephants, however, have a lower-than-expected rate of cancer, even though the odds are against them. A research project underway in Florida involving retired circus elephants is working to find out why, Slate reports.

Two of the elephants involved in the project, Julia and Sara, are recent retirees of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which have now stopped using elephants in their performances.

The project is led by Joshua D. Schiffman, MD, a pediatric oncologist, and will be housed at the Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Fla., according to Slate.   The research will focus on the blood of elephants, which contains a gene that suppresses tumor growth, in hopes that a synthetic version might be developed. 

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