Adult Female Gashangi Diagnosed with First Known Case of Melanoma in Mountain Gorillas

GD_ADF Gashangi_Nyakamwe gp_PNVi_MKB_blog

Gorilla Doctor Jan Ramer has shared Gashangi’s last biopsy with oncologists Dr. Michael Kent (UC Davis) and Dr. Phil Bergman (Sloan Kettering), and pathologist Dr. Linda Lowenstine (UC Davis). All three have concurred that Gashangi has melanoma. This is the first known case in non-human primates, not just in mountain gorillas. Various treatment options have been discussed, including follow-up surgery and drug therapies. The four doctors have concluded that further surgery is not a viable option because too much tissue would have to be removed — and there would still be a high probability that cancerous cells would remain.

In considering drug therapies, Gashangi’s quality of life has to be balanced with treatment efficacy. No one wants to put her on a course of drugs that will make her feel terrible and offer only a slightly higher chance of remission. The other major concern is choosing a therapy that isn’t likely to upset the other members of the Nyakamwe group, either from the standpoint of seeing her suffer or a therapy that requires repeated interventions. The team has decided to treat Gashangi with a DNA vaccine. She will be given a course of four injections that contain human tyrosinase, a rate-limiting enzyme that controls the production of melanin (melanin is what determines the color of hair, skin, and the iris of the eye). Although there is a 98% sequence identity between human and gorilla tyrosinase, Gashangi’s T-cells should recognize the foreign tyrosinase injected into the tumor site and mount a localized attack against the protein on the melanoma cells. Presently, the tumor is hiding under Gashangi’s immunologic radar, which is why its growth is unchecked. This therapy is also desirable because it acts in a very localized manner, rather than causing a systemic immune response. Last, but certainly not least, this therapy exhibits only mild side-effects, such as temporary soreness at the injection site and possible localized invitiligo (loss of ski pigmentation).

Jan will head out this week to give Gashangi’s her first injection. We will make sure to pass along information and photos as soon as she returns.



  1. Noelle May 4, 2014 Reply

    Poor baby. Thank goodness the Gorilla Docs are there to help. Please keep us updated. We love you Gashangi!!

  2. June 11, 2014 Reply

    This is so very sad, my heart bleeds! Get well, beautiful Gashangi !!

  3. Lila October 18, 2014 Reply

    Best wishes for a Long, Happy, Healthy, SAFE, & painless life for dear Gashangi!

    Praying for her.

  4. Kate Dudley February 27, 2016 Reply

    Are there any thoughts as to what may have triggered this ? Or could it be that they have never been so closely studied before that there is a chance that it has previously gone undetected and therefore undocumented?

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