Mole Rats May hold the Cure to Cancer
The naked mole has wrinkly skin, no hair and out-sized teeth and resembles something akin to a saber-toothed sausage. While it doesn’t look like much, this rat may hold the key to curing cancer. The mole rat has a life span of close to 30 years, almost seven times longer than an average rat, and it seems to be immune to most diseases including cancer.
The mole rat is uniquely adapted to survive the deserts of East Africa. It lives underground, is impervious to pain and can survive the severely depleted oxygen levels in its burrows. Dr Joao Pedro Magalhaes, who led a team at the University of Liverpool unravelling the animal’s genetic blueprint, hoped one day it would provide therapies to treat conditions in humans.
The level of resistance it has to disease, particularly cancer, might give us more clues as to why some animals are more prone to disease than others. With this work we want to establish the naked mole rat as the first model of resistance to the chronic diseases of ageing.
Scientists cut out sections out of strands of DNA using chemical ‘scissors’, which allowed them to read the strands and insert them back into the genome. Their investigations will now focus on the methods by which cells repair themselves and protect against disease.
Larger animals usually live longer than smaller ones, but scientists were stumped with the mole rats almost a decade ago as they just did not seem to die. In the US, scientists started to focus on their lifespan instead of the primary reason they were being researched in the first place, their social habits.
Mole rats tend to live in large groups of upto 300 individuals with a single reproducing queen. During mating season, the queen mates with upto three males and the remaining males in the colony suppress their reproductive tendencies to focus on their roles in the defence of the colony against predators such as snakes.