A study published in the journal Scientific Reports has found a rare disease that mostly affects children in the fossils of a dinosaur that existed 66 to 80 million years ago. Known as Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), the benign tumor is rare and often painful with its occurrence observed more in young boys. Researchers discovered LCH in the fossilized remains of the duck-billed dinosaur known as a hadrosaur.
The Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers dug out the fossils from the Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta, Canada. An analysis of cavities discovered in the tail bones of the extinct animal found evidence equally left in the bones of children who had LCH. Head of the Biohistory and Evolutionary Medicine Laboratory at TAU, Dr. Hila May, said the exact lesions left by LCH in human bones were found in the hadrosaur.
The researchers used micro CT scanning technology to view the lesions and the blood vessels that fed it before discovering that this is actually the first time LCH disease would be seen in a dinosaur.
Medical practitioners sometimes categorize LCH as an uncommon form of cancer, but this is not always the case.
“Most of the LCH-related tumors, which can be very painful, suddenly appear in the bones of children aged 2-10 years,” Dr. May said. “Thankfully, these tumors disappear without intervention in many cases.”
There is evidence that dinosaurs would have gotten ill and infected with various diseases such as osteoarthritis, gout, and cancer. But this is usually difficult to pinpoint given that analyzing fossilized remains is very hard, and there are no living references to these extinct animals. Scientists are keen on understanding how these diseases survive evolution in animal species with a view to treating them when human beings get infected with them.
The researchers said disease can develop in any living creature regardless of species or time-lapse – given the psychology of the host organism – and this means “the mechanism that encourages its development is not specific to human behavior and environment”.