Could Great White Shark DNA Hold a Secret to Curing Cancer?

Great White Shark jumping out of water

Cue the John Williams theme to the movie Jaws and make sure you have a big enough boat as we dive into this story. New research shows that great white sharks may actually hold some secrets when it comes to potential cures for cancer.

Recent mapping of the DNA of these predators of the deep has revealed mutations that protect the sharks against cancers and other illnesses, the BBC reported Tuesday. While the information about the shark DNA is interesting, scientists have yet to understand how to apply that information to the treatment of humans. However, research has shown that two shark immune genes, legumain and Bag1 are of particular interest. Both these genes have counterparts in humans, where their overexpression is well known to be associated with a whole range of cancers, the research has shown.

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According to the report, the scientists behind the research hope to continue to analyze the data in order to determine how the DNA could be used in the treatment of people. The research, conducted by scientists at the Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Centre at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, indicates that the great white shark DNA has evolved in ways human DNA has not, the BBC said. The shark can actually repair its own DNA, which is one of the reasons that it does not appear to be susceptible to certain mutations that impact people.

Mahmood Shivji, the co-leader of the study, said genome instability is an important issue in many diseases that impact people, including types of cancer.

"Now we find that nature has developed clever strategies to maintain the stability of genomes in these large-bodied, long-lived sharks,” Shivji told the BBC. "There's still tons to be learned from these evolutionary marvels, including information that will potentially be useful to fight cancer and age-related diseases, and improve wound-healing treatments in humans, as we uncover how these animals do it."

The DNA of sharks is actually larger than human DNA, about one-and-a-half times. That means there are things coded into the animal’s DNA that humans are unable to do, according to the report. Given enough time and research, the scientists believe there are numerous applications that can be learned from shark DNA. In addition to possible applications in treating cancer, the scientists believe shark DNA could be used to help in the healing of wounds, as well as blood-clotting, due to the animal’s ability to quickly recover from serious wounds, the BBC said.

This isn’t the first time that Save Our Seas scientists have touted the potential of shark DNA. In 2017 a genomics study of great white and hammerhead sharks revealed modifications in their immunity genes that could benefit wound treatments.

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