Theranostics 2021; 11(14):6682-6702. doi:10.7150/thno.56623


What Animal Cancers teach us about Human Biology

Patricia Kattner1*, Katharina Zeiler1,2*, Verena J. Herbener1*, Katia La Ferla-Brühl3, Rebecca Kassubek4, Michael Grunert5,6, Timo Burster7, Oliver Brühl3, Anna Sarah Weber1, Hannah Strobel1, Georg Karpel-Massler2,8, Sibylle Ott9, Alexa Hagedorn9, Daniel Tews10, Ansgar Schulz1, Vikas Prasad6, Markus D. Siegelin8, Lisa Nonnenmacher1, Pamela Fischer-Posovszky10, Marc-Eric Halatsch2, Klaus-Michael Debatin1, Mike-Andrew Westhoff1✉

1. Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, University Medical Center Ulm, Ulm, Germany.
2. Department of Neurosurgery, University Medical Center Ulm, Ulm, Germany.
3. Laboratorio Analisi Sicilia Catania, Lentini; SR, Italy.
4. Department of Neurology, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany.
5. Department of Nuclear Medicine, German Armed Forces Hospital of Ulm, Ulm, Germany.
6. Department of Nuclear Medicine, University Medical Center Ulm, Ulm, Germany.
7. Department of Biology, School of Sciences and Humanities, Nazarbayev University, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan Republic.
8. Department of Pathology & Cell Biology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY, USA.
9. Animal Research Center, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany.
10. Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, University Medical Center, Ulm, Germany.
*These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Kattner P, Zeiler K, Herbener VJ, Ferla-Brühl KL, Kassubek R, Grunert M, Burster T, Brühl O, Weber AS, Strobel H, Karpel-Massler G, Ott S, Hagedorn A, Tews D, Schulz A, Prasad V, Siegelin MD, Nonnenmacher L, Fischer-Posovszky P, Halatsch ME, Debatin KM, Westhoff MA. What Animal Cancers teach us about Human Biology. Theranostics 2021; 11(14):6682-6702. doi:10.7150/thno.56623. Available from

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Cancers in animals present a large, underutilized reservoir of biomedical information with critical implication for human oncology and medicine in general. Discussing two distinct areas of tumour biology in non-human hosts, we highlight the importance of these findings for our current understanding of cancer, before proposing a coordinated strategy to harvest biomedical information from non-human resources and translate it into a clinical setting.

First, infectious cancers that can be transmitted as allografts between individual hosts, have been identified in four distinct, unrelated groups, dogs, Tasmanian devils, Syrian hamsters and, surprisingly, marine bivalves. These malignancies might hold the key to improving our understanding of the interaction between tumour cell and immune system and, thus, allow us to devise novel treatment strategies that enhance anti-cancer immunosurveillance, as well as suggesting more effective organ and stem cell transplantation strategies. The existence of these malignancies also highlights the need for increased scrutiny when considering the existence of infectious cancers in humans.

Second, it has long been understood that no linear relationship exists between the number of cells within an organism and the cancer incidence rate. To resolve what is known as Peto's Paradox, additional anticancer strategies within different species have to be postulated. These naturally occurring idiosyncrasies to avoid carcinogenesis represent novel potential therapeutic strategies.

Keywords: infectious tumour, transmissible cancer, Peto's paradox, anticancer mechanisms, non-human malignancies, paediatric cancer