In which an animal shaped like a furry sausage with teeth can resist cancer, and you can’t

Study: blind mole rats give clues as to how species split into two

(image via wired.co.uk)

They’re furry, they live underground, but they don’t get cancer: blind mole rats, cousins of the naked mole rat, have been found to be resistant to chemically induced cancer. Researchers think it might have something to do with their ability to live in an oxygen deficient environment.

Scientists have known for a few years that naked mole rats – those pink, wrinkly, so-ugly-they’re-cute rodents hold the key to a long, cancer free life. Recent research into naked mole rats accidentally revealed a cancer-killing “goo,” made up of extra-long sugar proteins between cells, that effectively cause cancer cells to self destruct. Naked mole rats are also highly tolerant to oxygen-damage of cells (that process that kills you so slowly we call it “aging”), which accounts for their longevity.

Blind mole rats, of the genus Spalax, have already been found to have the same molecules residing between their cells that cause cancer-suicide. When isolated and left to grow unchecked, Spalax cells checked themselves at a specific limit – inducing cell death when too many cells replicated. In other studies, blind mole rats resisted various lung and breast-cancer causing agents, mystifying researchers.

Now more research has come out about the possible mechanisms behind the cancer resistant rodent. Researchers at the University of Illinois Biotechnology Center showed that all of the blind mole rat’s special characteristics – a long life, a cancer free existence, and permanent hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) – might be related.

Blind mole rats have a human-like mutation in their tumor-suppressor gene, p53, which means its tumor-suppressing powers are inhibited. But in the blind mole rats, research shows that its DNA repair mechanisms are enhanced, which protects against cancer-inducing damage caused by an oxygen-deficient environment.

From Mark Band, co-author of the University of Illinois study:

So now we know there’s overlap among the genes that affect DNA repair, hypoxia tolerance and cancer suppression. We haven’t been able to show the exact mechanisms yet, but we’re able to show that in Spalax they’re all related. One of the lessons of this research is that we have a new model animal to study mechanisms of disease, and possibly discover new therapeutic agents. (via Eurkalert)