Could this little bugger hold the cure for cancer? (Photo : Brandon Vick/University of Rochester)
The aesthetically-disagreeable naked mole rat can live for more than 30 years and has never been observed with cancer. In fact, these creatures seem impervious to the ailment - why is that so?
According to two University of Rochester researchers, it's all in the goo.
When growing cell cultures of various specimens, including naked mole rats and humans, the scientists noticed that the naked mole rat cells exhibited a large amount of a viscous, sugary substance known as HMW-HA.
"We needed to understand what the goo was," said Andrei Seluanov, one of the authors of the study detailing the findings.
When the HMW-HA was removed from the naked mole rat culture, the cells became susceptible to tumors, leading the team to conclude that HMW-HA is critical in the cancer-blocking process. In a perfect world, this means humans should be able to slather themselves in the goo and be cancer-free.
"There's indirect evidence that HMW-HA would work in people," said Seluanov. "It's used in anti-wrinkle injections and to relieve pain from arthritis in knee joints, without any adverse effects. Our hope is that it can also induce an anti-cancer response."
The study found that the HAS2 gene in naked mole rat is responsible for creating HMW-HA. Furthermore, the naked mole rat's HAS2 is different from most animals, and reason that HMW-HA accumulates in such large, cancer-preventing quantities in a naked mole rat is because the subterranean creatures simply recycle the goo incredibly slowly.
"A lot of cancer research focuses on animals that are prone to cancer," said Vera Gorbunova, the other half of the two-man University of Rochester team. "We think it's possible to learn strategies for preventing tumors by studying animals that are cancer-proof."
You can read the full published findings in the journal Nature.