Disease found in fossilized dinosaur tail afflicts humans to this day

February 11, 2020

The fossilized tail of a young dinosaur that lived on a prairie in southern Alberta, Canada, is home to the remains of a 60-million-year-old tumor.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University, led by Dr. Hila May of the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research, have identified this benign tumor as part of the pathology of LCH (Langerhans cell histiocytosis), a rare and sometimes painful disease that still afflicts humans, particularly children under the age of 10.

A study on the TAU discovery was published on February 10 in Scientific Reports. Prof. Bruce Rothschild of Indiana University, Prof. Frank Rühli of the University of Zurich and Mr. Darren Tanke of the Royal Museum of Paleontology also contributed to the research.

"Prof. Rothschild and Tanke spotted an unusual finding in the vertebrae of a tail of a young dinosaur of the grass-eating herbivore species, common in the world 66-80 million years ago," Dr. May explains. "There were large cavities in two of the vertebrae segments, which were unearthed at the Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta, Canada."

It was the specific shape of the cavities that attracted the attention of researchers.

"They were extremely similar to the cavities produced by tumors associated with the rare disease LCH that still exists today in humans," adds Dr. May. "Most of the LCH-related tumors, which can be very painful, suddenly appear in the bones of children aged 2-10 years. Thankfully, these tumors disappear without intervention in many cases."

The dinosaur tail vertebrae were sent for on-site advanced micro-CT scanning to the Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute at TAU's Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, which is located at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

"The micro-CT produces very high-resolution imaging, up to a few microns," Dr. May says. "We scanned the dinosaur vertebrae and created a computerized 3D reconstruction of the tumor and the blood vessels that fed it. The micro and macro analyses confirmed that it was, in fact, LCH. This is the first time this disease has been identified in a dinosaur."

According to Dr. May, the surprising findings indicate that the disease is not unique to humans, and that it has survived for more than 60 million years.

"These kinds of studies, which are now possible thanks to innovative technology, make an important and interesting contribution to evolutionary medicine, a relatively new field of research that investigates the development and behavior of diseases over time," notes Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of TAU's Department of Anatomy and Anthropology and Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research. "We are trying to understand why certain diseases survive evolution with an eye to deciphering what causes them in order to develop new and effective ways of treating them."
-end-
American Friends of Tel Aviv University supports Israel's most influential, comprehensive and sought-after center of higher learning, Tel Aviv University (TAU). TAU is recognized and celebrated internationally for creating an innovative, entrepreneurial culture on campus that generates inventions, startups and economic development in Israel. TAU is ranked ninth in the world, and first in Israel, for producing start-up founders of billion-dollar companies, an achievement that surpassed several Ivy League universities. To date, 2,500 US patents have been filed by Tel Aviv University researchers -- ranking TAU #1 in Israel, #10 outside of the US and #66 in the world.

American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Related Dinosaur Articles from Brightsurf:

Cracking the secrets of dinosaur eggshells
Since the famous discovery of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert in the early 1920s, the fossilized remains have captured the imaginations of paleontologists and the public, alike.

Dinosaur feather study debunked
A new study published in ''Scientific Reports'' provides substantial evidence that the first fossil feather ever to be discovered does belong to the iconic bird-like dinosaur, Archaeopteryx.

How to weigh a dinosaur
A new study looks at dinosaur body mass estimation techniques revealing different approaches still yield strikingly similar results.

How dinosaur research can help medicine
The intervertebral discs connect the vertebrae and give the spine its mobility.

New species of dinosaur discovered on Isle of Wight
A new study by Palaeontologists at the University of Southampton suggests four bones recently found on the Isle of Wight belong to new species of theropod dinosaur, the group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and modern-day birds.

First dinosaur eggs were soft like a turtle's
New research suggests that the first dinosaurs laid soft-shelled eggs -- a finding that contradicts established thought.

To think like a dinosaur
Palaeontologists from St Petersburg University have been the first to study in detail the structure of the brain and blood vessels in the skull of the ankylosaur Bissektipelta archibaldi.

New feathered dinosaur was one of the last surviving raptors
Dineobellator notohesperus lived 67 million years ago. Steven Jasinski, who recently earned his doctorate from the School of Arts and Sciences working with Peter Dodson, also of the School of Veterinary Medicine, described the find.

The dinosaur in the cupboard under the stairs
The mystery surrounding dinosaur footprints on a cave ceiling in Central Queensland has been solved after more than a half a century.

How did dinosaur parents know when their kids had a fever?
How Did Dinosaur Parents Know When Their Kids Had a Fever?

Read More: Dinosaur News and Dinosaur Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.