The naked mole rat in many ways does not seem like a rat at all. Unlike its furry counterpart, this bizarre-looking creature spends its life underground, burrowing with its colony, and, much like cold-blooded animals, it is incapable of maintaining a steady body temperature. Intriguingly, it also appears to be immune to cancer.
An ordinary mouse can be expected to live for three to four years, while the naked mole rat can live for up to 30 years -- a startlingly long time for such a small animal. Now, researchers have begun to understand that the creature's subterranean lifestyle may help to explain its longevity as well as its resistance to cancer.
Thanks to its need to burrow underground and maneuver through tunnels, naked mole rats appear to have developed higher concentrations of hyaluronan in their skin to increase its elasticity. Hyaluronan is a natural sugary substance that works as a thickening agent in the skin, cartilage, and other connective tissue. It may also stop tumors from developing, as it prevents cells from dividing or breaking free and developing into tumors.
Experiments conducted at the University of Rochester, in New York, and published in Nature, showed that when the substance is removed from cells of naked mole rats, they then become susceptible to tumors. Though the researchers must still test the substance in mice, lead scientist Andrei Seluanov said there's evidence hyaluronan should work in humans as well.
Photo: Roman Klementschitz