Why naked mole rats never get cancer
Arguably this is not the most adorable creature you have ever seen. But, the naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) displays exceptional longevity, with a maximum lifespan exceeding 30 years. In human years (relative to body size as naked mole rats) that is 600 years!
In addition to their longevity, naked mole rats, these subterranean African mammals, show an unusual resistance to cancer. Multi-year observations of large naked mole-rat colonies did not detect a single incidence of cancer! The authors found that the extracellular matrix in naked mole rats is rich in a substance that stops cancers growing. The magic ingredient is a polysaccharide called hyaluronan, which acts as a lubricant in the body. This particular hyaluronan is an extremely high-molecular-mass hyaluronan (HA), which is over five times larger than human or mouse HA.
By manipulating the pathways that lead to the build-up of high-molecular-mass hyaluronan in cells, the authors showed that if we prevent the naked mole rats from making high-molecular-mass hyaluronan then tumours can be grown.