Cancer-proof mole rats put scientists on hunt for hints

Cancer resistance seen in naked mole rats, hairless African rodents that live for 30 years or more, could come from a sugar that keeps cells from clumping into tumours, scientists studying the animals say.

The naked mole rat lives about 10 times longer than mice. And unlike mice, 95 per cent of whom die of cancer, the mole rat is impervious to the disease, spurring interest from scientists looking for hints on how humans may avoid the disease.

The sugar, called hyaluronan, exists between cells in tissue, helping to hold them together, the report in the journal Nature says. While all animals have hyaluronan, the mole rat's deposits are unusually large: about five times the size of that found in humans.

Naked mole rats have fascinated scientists for years because of their unusually long lives.

''We think it's possible to learn strategies for preventing tumours by studying animals that are cancer-proof,'' Vera Gorbunova, a study author and professor in the biology department at the University of Rochester in New York, said.

The researchers tried to prompt tumour growth by exposing the naked mole rats to proteins that cause cancer in mice.

Nothing happened until the researchers altered the production of hyaluronan.

Bloomberg, New York Times

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