The lowly naked mole rat may prove to be a creature most helpful to humans. The beast lives a long life and does not get cancer and two researchers in New York state have found why. Their research is moving toward finding a cure for human cancer.
Andrei Seluanov and Vera Gorbunova of the University of Rochester's research paper on the naked mole rat and a sugary cellular secretion, a molecule, called hyaluronic acid (HA), was published Wednesday in the journal Nature. In it they note that the small, subterranean rodent, devoid of hair with plastic-y, springy skin, has long chains of HA that study shows keeps cancer from entering its cells.
Noting the naked mole rat, more closely related to porcupines than rats, had HA and mice did not, and that the naked mole rat can live up to 32 years and never get cancer while mice live only 3 to 4 years and do get cancer, they decided to experiment around that sugary molecule, HA.
Cells of naked mole rats could become cancerous, they found, when they blocked the gene that encodes HA. "In tissue-culture experiments, the cells of naked mole rats could be made cancerous by blocking the gene that encodes HA or by increasing levels of a protein that recycles the sugar," Nature writes.
This has all lead these two researchers to publish their paper and to continue to study the helpful naked mole rat, and HA, with a view to finding how it might translate to a cancer cure for humans. "A lot of cancer research focuses on animals that are prone to cancer," said Gorbunova. "We think it's possible to learn strategies for preventing tumors by studying animals that are cancer-proof."