Cancer researchers are increasingly studying the genes of naked mole rats for their potential cancer-fighting potential, citing the rodents’ long lifespans and remarkable resistance to age-related diseases, ScienceDaily reports.
The animals — which can live up to 30 years, the longest of any rodent — were recently the subject of a study at the University of Rochester seeking to see whether naked mole rats displayed an anticancer mechanism called senescence. Cellular senescence is an evolutionary adaptation that prevents damaged cells from dividing out of control and developing into cancer. However, the genetic function also has a downside: It also accelerates aging.
In their recent study, researchers wanted to figure out why naked mole rats tend to have such long lifespans while also having a low risk of cancer. They started by comparing the senescence response of naked mole rats with that of mice, which live one-tenth as long, to see whether the former had evolved to eliminate senescence.
However, scientists discovered that naked mole rats do, in fact, experience the aging and cancer-fighting phenomenon, despite continuing to live long, healthy lives, suggesting that eliminating the senescence mechanism entirely may not be the key to a long lifespan, as much previous cancer research had indicated.
So why do naked mole rats live so long and so cancer-free? Scientists in the study concluded that in naked mole rats, senescent cells are generally “better behaved” and that this more organized structure may result in a higher resistance to the damaging effects of aging.
“We believe there was some strategy in the evolution of naked mole rats that allowed them to have more systematic changes in their genes and have more orchestrated pathways being regulated,” explained study authors. “We believe this is beneficial for longevity and cancer resistance.”
The research, which was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging and Life Extensions Foundation, could be an interesting first step into understanding the complex connection between cancer and age-related diseases as we get older. However, much more research is needed before we turn to the rodents for any sort of health-related perks.