Could the p53 protein that protects elephants from cancer be implanted in humans?

Not only elephants have the p53 protein, we have all mammals. This protein has what we call a cancer suppressor gene, it is able to prevent the tumor from developing. What the news about the elephants that you are referring to described is that these animals, instead of having a copy of the gene of this molecule, have fifteen or twenty copies, that is, the amount of this protein that they produce is much greater than the that we can produce humans. The research you are referring to defends the hypothesis that the reason why elephants have very few tumors is precisely the high amount of this protein they produce.

But now, let’s go to the answer to your specific question. The possibility of using this protein to fight cancer in people. The first thing I have to tell you is that this is a line of cancer research that has been very active for more than twenty years: trying to control p53 levels in tumors as a way to prevent them. It has been investigated, for example, in mice. What has been done is something similar to what happens to elephants, instead of having a single copy of the gene increase the number of copies and they are actually called super p53 mice. This was investigated by the scientist Manuel Serrano at the National Center for Oncological Research more than 15 years ago. And indeed he discovered that those mice are more protected against tumors.

But although it is a therapeutic strategy that has been tried to develop for many years is not as easy as you might think because the solution is not simply to increase p53 levels and that’s it. This can not be done, first you have to look for methods that allow you to increase the protein without causing more problems than those that you try to correct.

And what could those methods be? There are several alternatives. The first thing that was tried was the use of modified viruses to increase the expression of the gene that codes for this protein and thus increase the production of the protein itself. They used adenoviruses that are a type of virus that do not integrate into the genome, by not integrating means that they are not maintained permanently, that can be an inconvenience but prevents the genome of the cell being manipulated from being altered. But the investigation discovered that this method did not work and this way is abandoned.