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.