AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Do blind mole rats hold the cure for cancer?

Approximately 23% of humans die from cancer, whereas blind mole rats are practically immune to this devastating disease.

Recently at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, a study was made on blind mole rats and their peculiar avoidance of contracting cancer. This study looked specifically on a type of cell destruction known as necrosis, where a chemical called interferon-beta which is used to fight viruses caused the cells of these blind mole rats to violently burst open and die.

These blind mole rats aren’t the only ones that have developed methods of fighting caner. Naked mole rats, another long living subterranean relative of the guinea pig, used a cell-death program that turns on when the cell gets overcrowded. Biologists have thought for years that blind mole rats probably did the same thing until they dug a little deeper.

Apoptosis is the form of cell destruction that we are all familiar with where the cell self-destructs from the inside. Because of their low-oxygen environments, blind mole rats have developed a mutation in a cancer-fighting protein called p53. This prevents the cells from performing apoptosis, where it would be life-threatening considering their environment. This caused the mole rats to develop another method in order to fight cancerous tumors.

Necrosis is normally very dangerous and damage healthy tissues when killing tumors while also causing inflammation, but in this case, the mole rat stays perfectly healthy. What causes this? These scientists are currently trying to find out what triggers the release of the chemical, how it doesn’t harm the mole rats healthy cells, and how necrosis in these cells don’t cause any inflammation at all.

This discovery is very interesting and can be very useful in the quest to find a cure for cancer in the future. If we continue to look at the different ways in which these rodents fight cancer, we can hopefully adapt some of their ways to cancer in humans which can change history.

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  1. biorob

    Great post jcfitzy! As state above, I cannot believe that the study of blind mole rats may lead to a cure for cancer. I think it is great that scientists are coming up with various approaches to find a cure for cancer. I do, however, think that it is important to go after p53-base Cancer Therapy. This article:


    talks about how p53 functions are found in almost all human cancer cells. I think that this is a very important issue and I look forward to see how it progresses!

  2. thephilosopher

    Very cool post! Interestingly, the two forms of blind mole rat examined in the study, Spalax judaei and Spalax golani, were the only mole rats with cells programmed to self-destruct once they became overcrowded. (The scientists discovered this by putting the rodents’ cells in a culture that would force the cells to multiply much more than normal. After only twenty multiplications, the cells started to quickly die off!) The naked mole rats, on the other hand, have cells that are just very sensitive to their proximity to other cells, and thus wont multiply without sufficient space.

  3. saysquad

    jcfitzy this is an incredible post. I cannot believe that such an unattractive looking rodent could possibly hold the key to preventing cancer. While these mole rats are blind, they do, technically, have eyes. These eyes are located under the skin, and are not reactive to light stimuli. For more information, check out the article below:

  4. hannahbanana

    Wow this is cool! is another article about solely p53. Maybe scientists will eventually be able to harvest the powers of the gene to cure cancer. This could possibly be very beneficial for the research community.

  5. dwil

    Interesting post. While studying animals for human medical benefit is usually something that is useful for testing and nothing else, I believe that this study can actually help cancer research. While blind mole rats are obvious very different from humans, on the cellular level they are have the same animal cells and can show us a lot about how we can combat the disease. Hopefully the protein p53 can prove useful in humans as well.

    Here is another interesting post on the subject:

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