Naked mole-rats have special tumor-fighting immune systems that make them resistant to cancer, a new study suggests.
It was previously believed that the animals had cells that were resistant to being converted into cancer cells.
But researchers have now discovered that the environment of the naked mole-rat’s body prevents the cancer from developing, not a feature of the rodent’s cells that prevent them from becoming cancerous.
The team, from the University of Cambridge, says understanding naked mole-rats’ resistance to cancer can help us understanding the early stages of cancer and how to treat it.
A new study has found that the cells and molecules that surround naked mole rat cells prevent other cells from turning into tumors (file image)
Naked mole-rats, also known sand puppies, are burrowing rodents that are native to parts of East Africa.
They have other unique traits such as not being able to feel certain types of pain and being able to survive for along time with low levels of oxygen.
It can live a long time for an animal of its size, up to 32 years, and, perhaps its most unusual feature, its highly resistant to cancer and its related tumors.
Until recently, it was believed naked mole-rats almost never got cancer because their healthy cells were impervious to being converted into cancer cells.
But now, it’s believed that the rodents’ bodies can actually stop cancer cells from multiplying and spreading.
For the study, published in the journal Nature, the team looked at 79 different cell lines grown from five different types of tissues.
They grew the cells of the intestines, kidneys, lungs, pancreases and skin of 11 individual naked mole-rats.
Next, researchers infected the cells with altered viruses so that the cells would develop cancer-causing genes.
The genes caused cancerous tumors when injected in mice and rats cells.
However, the genetically altered naked mole rat cells also began to copy itself and spread.
‘To our surprise, the infected naked mole-rat cells began to multiply and rapidly form colonies in the lab,’ said lead researcher Dr Fazal Hadi, a professor from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Center.
‘We knew from this accelerated growth that they had become cancerous.’
This means the genes that cause cancer in other rodent cells also caused naked mole-rat cells to become cancerous.
This finding suggests that the cells and molecules that surround other naked mole rat cells prevent them from turning into tumors.
‘The results were a surprise to us and have completely transformed our understanding of cancer resistance in naked mole-rats,’ said co-senior author Dr Walid Khaled a professor in the department of pharmacology at the University of Cambridge.
‘If we can understand what’s special about these animals’ immune systems and how they protect them from cancer, we may be able to develop interventions to prevent the disease in people.’