By studying these bone samples, the team, led by Benjamin Jentgen-Ceschino, PhD student at ULiège, concluded that cancer and other tumoral and infectious conditions are not recent pathologies.
Studying a bone sample from cf. Isanosaurus of the Lower Jurassic (about 200 million years ago), researchers discovered no growth was beyond the development of fine spicules on the external surface of the bone, meaning that the animal died soon after.
These spicules are typically associated with malignant bone tumours and therefore correspond to the hypothesis of the development of malignant bone cancer in this individual.
A second sample – this time from a Spinophorosaurus – which showed similar growths seemed to show that some may have survived the disease.
This could be a reaction to a benign tumour or a viral infection, explained Jentgen-Ceschino, “but the rest of the skeleton of this specific individual also has several other pathologies, indicating that the Spinophorosaurus specimen studied here suffered several times different types of trauma during his life,” he added.
“This study also shows that many fossil pathologies have probably gone unnoticed until now,” concluded Valentin Fischer (ULiège).
The bones had previously been harvested by Koen Stein, a palaeontologist at the VUB and co-author of the study, Belga reports.
“When I harvested these dinosaur bones in 2008 for my doctoral research on bone growth in sauropods, I noticed that they had aberrant bone tissue, I never had time to describe and analyze them in detail,” said Stein.
“It is thanks to the meticulous work of Benjamin, who analysed dozens of medical and veterinary cases, that the team succeeded in narrowing the list of potential causes of these diseases,” he added.
Previous work by radiologist Bruce Rothschild of the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown also showed certain dinosaurs could get the disease.
“Diseases look the same independent of what critter is affected,” explained Rothschild.