Deer antler study opens new cancer research possibilities

June 24, 2019

Random mutation from millions of years ago has given rise to stags with bigger antlers, despite the risk of cancerous tumours, while natural selection favoured deer with stronger resistance to the tumours, resulting in the various species we see today. The knowledge of deer’s tumour-suppressing genes could very well lead to new methods of organ regeneration and cancer research.

Wang Wen, a Professor at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xian, China, said deer were unique for their ability to regrow antlers, unlike other mammals. Wang further explains that cancer is not a deadly disease to a deer, but a part of life.

In a recent international study, nine oncogenes were found to be related to antler cell growth – some for cell proliferation and differentiation; some for tumour formation in bones and skin; and some to prolong the cancer cells’ life. Another 19 genes then act as tumour suppressors to stop uncontrolled antler growth.The genes work systematically to allow the antler cells to thrive without developing into cancer, even though the same deer may have growths all over its body.

Professor Yunzhi Yang of Stanford University, California, and Assistant Professor Dai Fei Ker of the University of Hong Kong’s Institute for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine both think the ability to grow large amounts of “innervated bone with low tumour and infection incidence” could be useful in treating skeletal defects, regenerating nerves, and limiting cancer growth.

“Studies of deer antlers offer attractive approaches for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. For instance, deer antlers have inspired a commercially promising prosthesis for amputees,” they wrote in a journal that published the discovery.


Category: Education, Features

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