New Israeli research demonstrates ways that blind mole rats are resistant to cancer, National Geographic reports, providing new possibilties for cancer treatment in humans.
Researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel conducted a two-party study to determine if blind mole rats were chemically resistant to cancers and if their bodies could resist tumors. Twelve mole rats were exposed to two potent carcinogens, 3MCA and DMBA/TPA, and only one of rats developed a tumor. According to the new study, published in the journal BMC Biology, a similar test conducted on mice and rats resulted in all of the animals developing malignant tumors.
Blind mole rats, however, appear to release a natural substance that inhibits the growth of cancerous cells.
"If we succeed to identify, isolate, and clean the substance [their cells] secrete, we are on the way to testing it clinically and hopefully reaching a medicine" for humans, as senior study author Aaron Avivi told National Geographic.
Blind mole rats live in low-oxygen, underground environments, and scientists speculate that they developed such physical defenses in order to survive such harsh conditions. As a result, the animals are extremely tolerant of hypoxia, a condition in which the body is deprived of oxygen. Mole rats can also live for 20 years or longer, around five times the life spans of lace mice and rats, and do not show clear signs of aging.
"Burrowing animals are safe from predation, and evolutionary theory predicts that, as a result, natural selection will yield animals that can breed later in life," Jonathan Licht of Northwestern University said by email to National Geographic. "Evolution has achieved what are two goals of modern biomedical research: life extension and freedom from cancer."
In 2012, Vera Gorbunova of the University of Rochester and her team discovered that blind mole rats are able to "eliminate precancerous cells by secreting a protein called interferon-beta."
"Investigating these cancer-resistant creatures is extremely important," Gorbunova said.
This particular study involved Subterranean blind mole rats (Spalax).