This Rodent Could Save Your Life

Naked mole rats appear to be cancer-proof: researchers
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2013 8:39 AM CDT
This Rodent Could Save Your Life
A juvenile naked mole rat is caught by a rare burst of light at the Bronx Zoo's "World of Darkness" exhibit in New York, Thursday, Feb 7, 2008.   (AP Photo/WCS, Julie Larsen Maher)

The naked mole rat is one lucky rodent: It not only lives more than 30 years, it's also seemingly immune to cancer, according to a new study published in Nature. While 95% of lab mice die of cancer, per Bloomberg, scientists were unable to trigger cancer in naked mole rat cells. This led husband-and-wife biologists Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov to dig deeper. What they found: a particular cell sensitivity and a sugar, called hyaluronan, that seems to keep them from developing tumors. "We think this mechanism could be moved into humans," Gorbunova tells the New York Times.

Hyaluronan, which helps hold cells together, is also found in humans, though the mole rat's version is five times longer. And when Gorbunova and Seluanov turned off the production of hyaluronan in mole rats cells, they suddenly became susceptible to cancer. The biologists speculate that the cancer immunity was a lucky fringe benefit: The sugar helps give skin its stretchiness, something naked mole rats' skin has in spades; it allows them to squeeze through narrow tunnels. Up next: seeing if the compound can make mice cancer-proof. (Read more cancer stories.)

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