Rare Daily Staff

A 60 million-year-old tumor, found in the fossilized tail of a dinosaur in Canada, has been shown to have the pathological features of Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare and painful disease that still afflicts humans, researchers reported.

In a study in the open access journal Scientific Reports, an international group of researchers led by Tel Aviv University found large cavities in two segments of dinosaur vertebrae of a young, grass-eating herbivore that lived 66 to 80 million years ago. Researchers unearthed the specimens at the Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta, Canada.

The shape of the cavities had telltale signs of Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), a benign osteolytic tumor-like bone lesion that is manifested in the skeletal system. It is the most common of the non-infectious granulomatous bone disorders.

“They were extremely similar to the cavities produced by tumors associated with the rare disease LCH that still exists today in humans,” said Hila May of the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine. “Most of the LCH-related tumors, which can be very painful, suddenly appear in the bones of children aged 2 to 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. The micro-CT produces very high-resolution imaging.

The researchers 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 LCH.  It was the first time this disease has been identified in a dinosaur.”

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

Israel Hershkovitz, a professor in Tel Aviv University’s Department of Anatomy and Anthropology and Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research, said the work contributes to the field of evolutionary medicine, a new field of research that investigates the development and behavior over time.

“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,” he said.

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