An aggressive malignant bone cancer – osteosarcoma – has been diagnosed in a dinosaur for the first time ever.
The discovery was made thanks to a collaboration between the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and McMaster University, and the findings were published in the medical journal The Lancet Oncology.
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The bone that was found to be cancerous is the fibula (lower leg bone) from a Centrosaurus apertus, a horned dinosaur that lived 76 to 77 million years ago.
The bone was originally uncovered in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta in 1989. Its deformity was originally attributed to a healing fracture.
However, on viewing the bone, 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 from McMaster University, decided to analyze it using modern medical techniques.
With an international team of specialists, they diagnosed the first documented case of cancer in any dinosaur in history.
After performing high-resolution CT scans, the researchers used powerful three-dimensional CT reconstruction tools in order to visualize the progression of the cancer through the bone. Using this method, they reached a diagnosis of osteosarcoma.
“Diagnosis of aggressive cancer like this in dinosaurs has been elusive and requires medical expertise and multiple levels of analysis to properly identify,” Crowther, who is also a Royal Patrons Circle donor and volunteer at the ROM, said in a press release.
“Here, we show the unmistakable signature of advanced bone cancer in 76-million-year-old horned dinosaur – the first of its kind. It’s very exciting,” he continued.
Establishing a link between human diseases and diseases that were around before us will help scientists to learn more about the evolution and genetics of various diseases, the researchers say. For all we know, the key to overcoming one of the most deadly diseases of today might be waiting to be discovered in one of the world’s many museum collections.