How Ocean Exploration Could Cure Cancer

Samantha Cobaugh

Social Darwinism includes the evolutionary concept of ‘survival of the fittest’.  Organisms live through it every day in order to survive. Plants, people, and animals have physically changed in order to best thrive in their environment. For example, succulents, living in arid conditions, store water in their thick leaves and stems to better survive the hot and dry climate. It is truly fascinating to see how organisms have changed to better survive – sometimes it is evolutionary.

According to phys.org, recently, a study was done on sharks that show alterations to their genes that give them an immunity to cancer, along with tendencies to heal quicker than humans.

“The immune system of sharks and rays has been battle-tested and evolved over hundreds of millions of years,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., director of the Nova Southeastern University’s Save Our Seas Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute. “Using genomics approaches to understanding their immunity genesis is likely to produce many more exciting discoveries, some of which could potentially translate into human medical benefit. Now we have another important reason to make sure we don’t lose these marvelous and ecologically critical animals to overfishing, as is currently occurring in many parts of the world. We’ve just scratched the surface in terms of learning what these ancient animals can teach us, as well as possibly provide us in terms of direct biomedical benefits.”

The immunity genes legumain and Bag1 are seen in sharks. However, it is the human complement of these genes whose “overexpression” cause many cancers in humans. On the other hand, these genes in sharks have adapted (over the course of many years) giving sharks immunity to cancer. For example, the Bag1 gene: this gene holds the code for a protein that schedules cell deaths to keep the body healthy. It is in this process that defective cells are killed off – however, in cancer, malignant cells change this process. Sharks’ genes have adapted- “the shark-specific signature of adaptation found in the Bag1 gene may indicate an alternative, or modified role for this important gene – one that could alter its tendency to inhibit programmed cell death in sharks.”

Not to mention, their rapid wound healing abilities are reflected in their great amount of immunity-related genes (more than the number found in humans), along with specific genes only found in sharks and rays.

If scientists can find a way to implement sharks’ immunity genes into human medicine, it will uncover a whole new layer of medicine and could potentially give humans immunity to cancer (along with other health benefits).

Be warned – eating parts of sharks will not give you immunity to cancer or faster healing abilities. In fact, their high mercury levels could actually harm you. Please, do not do it.

Edited by:

Mehek Dedhia