The Secret of the Blind Mole Rat’s Cancer Resistance Revealed

By Breanna Draxler | November 8, 2012 9:44 am

blind mole rat
Engraved illustration of Nehring’s blind mole rat, Spalax typhlus

Naked mole rats are well-known wunderkind around here—numerous studies have revealed that the weird subterranean critters don’t feel pain from acid, are massively long-lived for rodents, and don’t seem to get cancer. But an evolutionarily distant relative, the blind mole rat, also has a few tricks up its, er, sleeves: It shares the naked mole rats’ resistance to cancer, but through a completely different mechanism. Now a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences helps explain what’s protecting them.

To better understand the blind mole rat’s cancer resistance on a cellular level, the scientists grew lung and skin cells from the rats on a substance that encouraged faster-than-normal growth, a hallmark of cancer. In each experiment, as the cell populations doubled and doubled again, the rat’s natural defenses eventually kicked in, usually between seven and 20 doublings. The cells began to produce a protein called interferon beta, which caused the cells to die, and fast. Within three days, the protein had killed every cell in each dish. The cells were, in essence, taking a cyanide pill, committing suicide for the organism’s greater good.

The blind mole rat’s anti-cancer strategy, oddly enough, is very different from the naked mole rat’s. In that species, a specific gene—p16—increases the rat cells’ sensitivity to overcrowding. Once the cell population reaches a certain level, they stop proliferating, thus protecting themselves from unchecked, cancerous growths.

Now that the scientists have been able to demonstrate these two anti-cancer mechanisms in the lab, they hope to continue research in live animals, studying the mechanisms in the blind and naked mole rats themselves. This knowledge could provide insights into future treatment or prevention of cancer in humans.

Image courtesy of Gustav Mützel, Brehms Tierleben, Small Edition, 1927 via Wikimedia Commons.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • Patty

    Every step closer to preventing/curing cancer is a good step taken. Thanks for the great information!

  • curious

    I hope that discovery do not result in a slaughter of mole rats like the “cartilage rage” when the sharks were considered also inmune to cancer

  • scientist

    this paper was published because one of the coauthor is a member of the national academy of science of USA and pratically can put in any paper he wishes in PNAS. Especially if he is, as Nevo is, an unrestrained, ego-maniac with no moral and ethics. He will send papers that he coauthored and has no expertise in the subject of the study so he has his name on yet another paper, to a dozen reviewers from his friends, and send to pnas editorial the two positives and get a free ride into the journal with no screening.
    AS to the results: the paper is full of contradictions,there is no direct conection to cancer. There is no control to the experiment of interferone accumulation, like adding externally interferone and see if it is indeed the causative agent, and not just a result of contamination in the cell culture as known to every beginner that just got his 1st lesson in working with cell culture.

  • j.michael carney

    Hoxsey,Rife, Gerson,Tesla and the 100s of others curing cancer were hounded to death ,run out of Town , called freeks shalitans. All of there cures were not using radiation or chemo drugs . The cancer industry is alive and well . If somebody does come up with a cure they will go down the same road. DCA was found to cure (cure )cancer , This simple compound will not even make it to a review board.CAN’T BE PATIENTED. Any herbal cure ,like essiac tea couldn’t be patiented. A review of how IODINE can prevent or cure cancer won’t even be considered. Our approach to products that cause cancer our diet to prevent cancer and or never changing approach to get cancer in remission leads me to a conclusion that we NEED cancer to keep the DRs in nice vacition homes. ps research those names and DCA find out for yourself

  • Barb Hoffmann

    wunderkinder plural of wunderkind

  • Brian Too

    So all we have to do to cure cancer is shed our clothes, sight, above-ground lifestyles, and adopt a queen?

    Couldn’t be simpler!

  • Fern

    Discover comments suddenly get weird (Patty excepted). Although, I am a little curious if #3 has some relevant information. Anyone with a second opinion?


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