Researchers Find The First Confirmed Case of Aggressive Bone Cancer in a Dinosaur

Researchers Find The First Confirmed Case of Aggressive Bone Cancer in a Dinosaur

A team of scientists has discovered and diagnosed an aggressive malignant bone cancer, basically osteosarcoma, for the first time ever in a dinosaur. This discovery happened in a collaboration led by McMasters University and the Royal Ontario Museum. This type of malignant cancer has been diagnosed in a dinosaur for the first time.

The specimen here is a fossilized shin bone (lower leg bone) from Centrosaurus apertus, a plant-eating horned dinosaur that lived and died roughly 76 to 77 million years ago. The fossil was unearthed in Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta, Canada back in 1989, and had been stored at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

“Here, we show the unmistakable signature of advanced bone cancer in [a] 76-million-year-old horned dinosaur – the first of its kind,” said pathologist Mark Crowther from Department of Medicine, McMaster University, Canada. “It’s very exciting.”

At first the malformed part of the bone was thought to be a healing fracture but during a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the researchers observed this and decided to analyze it with modern methods.

Dr. David Evans, James and Louise Temerty Endowed Chair of Vertebrate Palaeontology from the ROM, and Drs. Mark Crowther, Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, and Snezana Popovic, an osteopathologist, both at McMaster University, were in the team who decided to analyze it further. They formed a team with people from different fields including pathology, radiology, orthopedic surgery, and palaeopathology.

The team then started analyzing the bone in the same way it’s done for humans. They did a C.T Scan on the bone. The X-ray image ‘slices’ were reconstructed to see how the tumor grew through the fossilized bone. They observed that the cancer had spread quite extensively and was in advanced stage.

The shin bone, with the main tumour mass in yellow.
The shin bone, with the main tumour mass in yellow. (Danielle Dufault/Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University)

Establishing links between human disease and the diseases of the past will help scientists to gain a better understanding of the evolution and genetics of various diseases. Evidence of many other diseases that we share with dinosaurs and other extinct animals may yet be sitting in museum collections in need of re-examination using modern analytical techniques.

“Evidence suggests that malignancies, including bone cancers, are rooted quite deeply in the evolutionary history of organisms,” the authors concluded. Yes, even dinosaurs.

Journal Reference:
Seper Ekhtiari, Kentaro Chiba, Snezana Popovic, Rhianne Crowther, Gregory Wohl, Andy Kin On Wong, Darren H Tanke, Danielle M Dufault, Olivia D Geen, Naveen Parasu, Mark A Crowther, David C Evans. First case of osteosarcoma in a dinosaur: a multimodal diagnosis. The Lancet Oncology, 2020; 21 (8): 1021 DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(20)30171-6

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