Cancer also affected the dinosaurs


A team of researchers from ULiège and the VUB have reinforced the idea that sauropods, the largest prehistoric dinosaurs with their characteristic long necks, developed bone diseases such as cancers.

This research which is being published in the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions B, showed that bone cancers have existed and spread to a wide range of organisms for hundreds of millions of years.

As Koen Stein, a palaeontologist at VUB and co-author of the study explains, "When I took the dinosaur samples in 2008 in Thailand and Niger, as part of my own doctoral research on bone growth in sauropods, I immediately noticed these abnormal tissues, but I never really had the time to study the anomalies in detail."

This analysis of bones dating back more than 200 million years was conducted by a PhD student at the Geology Research Unit of ULiège, Benjamin Jentgen-Ceschino. He concluded that cancer and other tumours and infections are not recent pathologies. "We observed different types of conditions and we see no further growth of the animal beyond the development of thin spicules (spiny-shaped bone tissue). This means that the animal died shortly afterwards."

According to the specialist, there is certainly still a lot of work to do: "There are probably many bones that have never been cut through or studied using medical imaging for example, but would have preserved the diseases."

The researchers from ULiège and VUB have undeniably advanced our knowledge in palaeopathology, the study of ancient diseases, and more specifically those in bone histology.