The circus came to town early for kids at Children’s Hospital of Michigan when dancers, clowns and acrobats from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey gave them a glimpse of “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
The lobby at Children’s was pack with kids … some in wheelchairs and many holding tightly to a parent’s hand … as 6’5” Ringmaster Jonathan Lee Iverson introduced the acts. Smiles abounded and giggles grew as the performers spread the joy and wonder of the circus, which is playing at the Palace of Auburn Hills this weekend.
The best news though was the $10,000 donation from the Ringling Bros. Children’s Fund™ and Palace Sports and Entertainment to support pediatric oncology research in Southeast Michigan. Iverson made the check presentation to Dr. Jeffrey Taub, division chief, oncology at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Those dollars will be used towards other pediatric oncology research done at Children’s.
There’s a huge circus link to cancer research. It seems despite their size elephants rarely get cancer. They have a mortality rate of 5 percent compared to up to 25 percent in humans. The question is, why?
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey wants to help find out.
I went to the website to learn more about what it is doing and discovered Dr. Joshua Schiffman at the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City is studying DNA from Ringling Bros. elephants and comparing it to DNA from his patients with cancer. He hopes to find new treatment for pediatric cancer.
To conduct his research Dr. Schiffman needed elephant DNA and a diverse gene pool. The Feld Family, owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, wanted to support this research and the Ringling’s Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) in Florida has the largest herd of Asian elephants in the Western Hemisphere
Since the staff at the Center has a strong bond with the elephants the experts can easily provide the blood samples Dr. Schiffman needs to further his research.
At the CEC, researchers identified a key genetic link, called P53, which helps protect both Asian and African elephants from developing cancer.
By studying the DNA in blood from elephants and the DNA in blood from cancer patients, the team discovered elephants have 40 copies of this P53 gene that attacks cancer while a healthy person has two copies.
I have always loved elephants, but this discovery has certainly deepened that love. It’s terrific elephants may hold a key to fighting such a horrible disease. With more than 16,000 kids diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States that could be the miracle many need.
As part of the collaboration with Dr. Schiffman, the Ringling Bros. Children’s Fund and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will donate more than $1 million to support cancer research and to care for children.
In the 50 cities Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey visited starting October 14, it is donating $10,000 to a local children’s hospital or treatment center. In addition, the Ringling Bros. Children’s Fund will match each donation with an additional $10,000 donation to the Primary Children’s Hospital Foundation to support the Primary Children’s Hospital Pediatric Cancer Research Program. This program, which helped support the elephant research, focuses on novel approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and improving the value of pediatric cancer care.
The circus performers are entertaining pediatric patients at each of these hospitals or treatment centers.
“At Ringling Bros., we focus on entertaining families and giving back to the communities where we perform every week. In addition to the financial contributions made by Ringling Bros., we will be bringing our performers directly to the hospitals to entertain families who aren’t able to make it to the show,” said Alana Feld, executive vice president of Feld Entertainment and producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
For those who can make it to the show Ringling Brothers donated 100 tickets to outpatient children and families.
Earlier this year Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey announced that after 145 years of featuring elephants in its circus acts, it will retire the 13 elephants that are part of the show to the CEC by 2018.
The circus says it is “working toward a world with more elephants and less cancer… one city at a time.”