The naked mole rat: the best small rodent in the world with which to do research
It might not be cute, but Science magazine recently named the toothy underground rodent its ‘Vertebrate of the Year’ for 2013
Naked mole rat: appears to be cancer-resistant
The naked mole rat may not be conventionally cute, but it has certainly captured the hearts of scientific researchers, and Science magazine recently named the toothy underground rodent its “Vertebrate of the Year” for 2013.
Curiously, the naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) can live a relatively long life – 30 years or more in some cases – and it appears to be protected from cancer. Two studies from the University of Rochester that explored the burrowing mammal’s longevity and anti-cancer strategies helped to win the naked mole rat its 2013 accolade.
One study found an unusual type of molecule, a high-molecular-mass hyaluronan (HA), in the rodent’s tissues. Without it, the naked mole rats seemed to be less resistant to cancer.
“We speculate that naked mole rats have evolved a higher concentration of HA in the skin to provide skin elasticity needed for life in underground tunnels,” wrote the researchers in the journal Nature. “This trait may have then been co-opted to provide cancer resistance and longevity to this species.”
In another study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found that naked mole rats are more accurate than mice when making proteins in their cells.
“The next step in our research is to take those mechanisms we discovered in the naked mole rat and then move them into mice, and to see whether mice will live longer and will be more resistant to cancer,” said University of Rochester biologist Prof Vera Gorbunova, in a video on the university’s website.
“This will be a proof of principle that those mechanisms that we discovered in the naked mole rat can be moved to a different species and can ultimately benefit humans.”