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Scientist Studies Ancient Cancer Using Mummified Mice

Aug 18, 2016 06:51 AM EDT
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A scientist made her own mummy to study ancient cancer.

Certain deadly diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, had been known to plague ancient Egyptians during their time. This makes Egyptian mummies valuable sources of information about the origin of the diseases, especially cancer.

To know more about the origin of cancer, Jennifer Willoughby, a doctoral student of bioarchaeology at Western University in Ontario, Canada, decided to study tumors in ancient Egyptian mummies, Science reports.

The problem was that there is no existing scientific evidence about what a mummified tumor would look like.

Willoughby's solution: to make her own mummy.

Willoughby requested from a cancer lab a handful of recently deceased mice - most had tumors while a few did not. Some of the mice were buried sand in a hot terrarium to imitate how bodies were naturally preserved in dry desert environments.

For the other batch of mice, Willoughby followed the ancient Egyptian mummification treatment. The internal organs of mice were carefully removed, except for the brain, which was too small and too difficult to extract. The bodies were filled and covered with natron, which is a dehydrating chemical that ancient Egyptians used on the mummies during their time.

After 50 days, the carcasses were dipped in pine resin and were wrapped in linen bandages, which were sealed using beeswax. Willoughby also did the ancient tradition of anointing the mummies with frankincense and myrrh, and even uttered an "ancient Egyptian prayer."

Using a computed tomography scanner, Willoughby was able to see the tumors in the both groups of mice. The tumors appeared more solid and interacted differently with the x-rays, compared with the other soft tissues, including internal organs. The findings of the research were presented at last week's World Congress on Mummy Studies, which was held in Lima, Peru.

The discovery would allow researchers to start conducting studies on tumors on Egyptian human mummies and dig deeper into how cancer affected the ancient people.

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