Could Circus Elephants Help Cure Childhood Cancer?

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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation, Photo Credit Feld Entertainment

Taking your child to the circus is an experience most parents share with their little ones at least once in their lives. Now, the circus brings an even greater source of fulfillment for families, one that could potentially change the treatment of childhood cancer -- and it starts with elephants.

Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) has partnered with Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric oncologist from Primary Children's Hospital and the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the University of Utah, to tackle a new frontier of research and treatment. While humans have up to a 25 percent chance of getting cancer in their lifetime, elephants have a less than five percent chance. By analyzing the blood of the CEC elephants, Schiffman discovered a genetic link he lovingly refers to as the "knight gene" due to it steadfast approach to attack abnormal cells. This direct genetic link is what protects elephants from developing cancer.

"Twenty years ago, we founded the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation to preserve the endangered Asian elephant for future generations. Little did we know then that they may hold the key to cancer treatment and we're tremendously excited to be a part of it," said Kenneth Feld, Chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment.

Let's face it, the nightmarish possibility of your child getting cancer is very real. Each year over 16,000 children and teens will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States. Having been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma at the age of 15, Dr. Schiffman is hoping to help children just like him.

In the spirit of these new findings, the Feld Family - founders of the CEC - is forming the Ringling Bros. Children's Fund as an element of their ongoing participation in cancer research. In the next 50 cities Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey visits, Ringling Bros. will donate $10,000 to a local children's hospital or treatment center and the Ringling Bros. Children's Fund will match each donation with an additional $10,000 donation to the Primary Children's Hospital Foundation to support the PCH Pediatric Cancer Research Program.

This program, which helped support the elephant research, focuses on novel approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and improving the value of pediatric cancer care.
So next time you're at the circus and you watch the elephants march into the ring, now you know they have a lot more to be proud of than just entertaining the public.