A rare disease that still affects humans today has been found in the fossilized remains of a duck-billed dinosaur that roamed the Earth at least 66 million years ago.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University noticed unusual cavities in two tail segments of the hadrosaur, which were unearthed at the Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta, Canada.They compared the vertebrae with the skeletons of two humans who were known to have a benign tumor called LCH (Langerhans cell histiocytosis), a rare and sometimes painful disease that affects children, mainly boys.
"Diagnosing diseases in skeletal remains and fossils is complicated as in some cases different diseases leave similar marks on bones. LCH, however, has a distinctive appearance that fit to the lesions found in the hadrosaur," said Dr. Hila May, head of the Biohistory and Evolutionary Medicine Laboratory, at TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
The researchers used advanced, high-resolution CT scans to analyze the dinosaur tail fossils.
"New technologies,such as the micro CT scanning, enabled us to examine the ... structure of the lesion and reconstruct the overgrowth as well as the blood vessels that fed it," May told CNN.
"The micro and macro analyses confirmed that it was, in fact, LCH. This is the first time this disease has been identified in a dinosaur," May said.
In humans, LCH is sometimes described as a rare form of cancer but May said that there are different opinions among experts as to whether it is definitively a cancer or not because in some cases its passes spontaneously.
"Most of the LCH-related tumors, which can be very painful, suddenly appear in the bones of children aged 2-10 years. Thankfully, these tumors disappear without intervention in many cases," she said.
Hadrosaurs would have stood about 10 meters high and weighed several tons. They roamed in large herds 66 to 80 million years ago, the study, which published this week in the journal Scientific Reports said.