Researchers from Tel Aviv University have identified a benign tumor found in a fossilized dinosaur tail that appears to be LCH (Langerhans cell histiocytosis). LCH is a rare and sometimes painful disease that still affects humans, particularly children under the age of 10.
The discovery, published this week, was made on a prairie in Alberta, Canada, where the fossilized tail belonged to a young dinosaur whose remains contained the remnants of a 60-million-year-old tumor.
It was the specific shape of the cavities left by the tumor that attracted the attention of researchers. In humans, usually these tumors disappear without medical intervention. LCH is not caused by a known infection. It is not contagious, nor is it believed to be inherited.
Once the tail and its tumor cavity were discovered, the scientists sent the dinosaur vertebrae to be scanned and then created a computerized 3D reconstruction of the tumor and the blood vessels that fed it. The analyses confirmed that it was, in fact, LCH. This is the first time this disease has been identified in a dinosaur. These findings show that the disease is not unique to humans, and has survived for more than 60 million years. As they said in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”
Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of TAU’s Department of Anatomy and Anthropology commented to the American Friends of Tel Aviv University, “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.”