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Researchers say the answer lies in the genes. Can humans devise a similar solution?

Elephants can boast a long list of credits to their fame: They’re the largest land-based animals on Earth; their memory rivals that of dolphins, apes and humans; and most intriguingly, they rarely get cancer. This last fact has puzzled scientists for decades, but now, they might have an answer.

According to a study published in JAMA, elephants have 20 copies of a tumor-suppressing gene called TP53. By comparison, humans have only one copy of the gene.

Practical application of this research is still far away, but the study’s findings are promising, researchers say.

“Nature has already figured how to prevent cancer,” says co-author Joshua Schiffman, M.D., a pediatric oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute. “It’s up to us to learn how … we can adapt those strategies to prevent cancer in people.”