Cancer on a Paleo-diet? Ask someone who lived 1.7 million years ago
An international team of researchers led by scientists from the University of the Witwatersrand's Evolutionary Studies Institute and the South African Centre for Excellence in PalaeoSciences today announced in two papers, published in the South African Journal of Science, the discovery of the most ancient evidence for cancer and bony tumours yet described in the human fossil record.
|Volume rendered image of the external morphology of the foot bone shows the extent |
of expansion of the primary bone cancer beyond the surface of the bone
[Credit: Patrick Randolph-Quinney (UCLAN)]
In an accompanying paper appearing in the same journal, a collaborating team of scientists identify the oldest tumour ever found in the human fossil record, a benign neoplasm found in the vertebrae of the well-known Australopithecus sediba child, Karabo from the site of Malapa, and dated to almost two million years in age. The oldest previously demonstrated possible hominin tumour was found in the rib of a Neanderthal and dated to around 120,000 years old.
The cancer in a foot bone, a metatarsal, was identified as an osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer which usually affects younger individuals in modern humans, and, if untreated typically results in early death. "Due to its preservation, we don't know whether the single cancerous foot bone belongs to an adult or child, nor whether the cancer caused the death of this individual, but we can tell this would have affected the individuals' ability to walk or run," says Dr Bernhard Zipfel, a Wits scientist and an expert on the foot and locomotion of early human relatives. "In short, it would have been painful."
Prof. Lee Berger, an author on both papers and leader of the Malapa project where the fossil vertebra was found adds "not only has there been an assumption that these sorts of cancers and tumours are diseases of modernity, which these fossils clearly demonstrate they are not, but that we as modern humans exhibit them as a consequence of living longer, yet this rare tumour is found in a young child. The history of these types of tumours and cancers is clearly more complex than previously thought".
Both incidences of disease were diagnosed using state of the art imaging technologies including those at the European Synchrotron Research Facility in Grenoble, France, medical CT at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, and the micro-CT facility at the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa at Pelindaba.
"Researchers in South Africa are at the forefront of using various X-Ray modalities to discover new and interesting facts about ancient human relatives," notes Dr Jacqueline Smilg, a radiologist based at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, who is an author on both papers and was involved in the clinical diagnoses. "This is another good example of how the modern clinical sciences and the science of palaeoanthropology are working together in South Africa and with international collaborators to advance our understanding of diseases in both the past and the present."
Source: University of the Witwatersrand [July 28, 2016]