Dinosaur diagnosed with bone cancer that afflicts humans today

James Marshall
August 4, 2020

When a decrease leg bone or fibula from a horned dinosaur named Centrosaurus apertus that lived 76 to 77 million many years in the past was unearthed in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada, in 1989, the malformed conclusion of the fossilized bone was originally thought to be a healing fracture.

The fossil came back into focus in 2017 after David Evans, the chair of vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and an associate professor at the University of Toronto, along with colleagues, noticed the unusual features when viewing the fossil at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta.

"Diagnosis of aggressive cancer like this in dinosaurs has been elusive and requires medical expertise and multiple levels of analysis to properly identify", says Crowther, who is also a Royal Patrons Circle donor and volunteer at the ROM.

The Centrosaurus fibula, a lower leg bone, contained "a massive gnarly tumour larger than an apple", said paleontologist David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, one of the researchers in the study published in the journal Lancet Oncology.

Thus began a unique multidisciplinary effort to re-analyse the fossil, a project that included ROM paleontologist Louise Temerty and osteopathologist Snezana Popovic, also at McMaster, which is located in Hamilton, Ontario.

Skeletal outline of Centrosaurus apertus, with femur indicated. Reaching some 18 feet (5.5 meters) long, these beasts featured a long horn on their snouts and a short frill adorned with four horns, the top two of which were quite small.

Furthermore, he added, evidence of many other diseases that we have in common with the dinosaurs and other extinct animals may be sitting in museum collections across the globe - ready to be revealed using modern analytical techniques. The team re-evaluated the bone and approached the diagnosis similarly to how it would be approached for the diagnosis of an unknown tumour in a human patient. Digital 3D modelling tools allowed them to reconstruct the progression of the disease as it ravaged the dinosaur's femur. However, because the fossil was found in a bone bed with lots of other Centrosaurus specimens, the dinosaur likely died in a flood with the rest of its herd and not from the cancer.

To ensure their diagnosis, the staff in contrast the fossil to a usual fibula from a dinosaur of the very same species, as very well as to a fibula belonging to a 19-12 months-old male with a verified circumstance of osteosarcoma.

But a more in-depth analysis, utilizing contemporary medical methods that approached the fossil in the exact same method as a medical diagnosis in a human client, exposed that it was osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that in humans today generally takes place in the 2nd or 3rd years of life.

The main tumour mass is at the top of the bone, and can be seen on the 3D reconstruction in yellow; red grey is the normal bone and red denotes the medullary cavity.

"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage". They then thin-sectioned the fossil bone and examined it under a microscope to assess it at the bone-cellular level. "We were not only able to demonstrate that the bone tissue showed the hallmarks of osteosarcoma, but that the tumor spiraled through the cortex of bone, discounting its original identification of a healed fracture", Evans said.

It's an overgrowth of disorganized bone that spreads rapidly both through the bone and to other organs, including most commonly, the lung.

'The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time'.

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