Why naked mole rats never get cancer

ImageArguably 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. Image

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.

This study was published in June 2013 in the journal Nature by Tian et al, “High-molecular-mass hyaluronan mediates the cancer resistance of the naked mole rat”.

Biotechs and SMEs will be allocated 20% of the overall budget in the Horizon 2020 scheme

While the new 7-year funding scheme of EU, “Horizon 2020” will continue to fund excellent basic research (17% of the total budget), an effort is being made to attract small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to participate in research consortia. After a two-and-a-half-year negotiation, the European Council and the European Parliament reached an agreement (pending final sign-off) that SMEs will claim a 20% of the total budget  in an act that aims to boost European economy.

Open access publication of results of all research funded under Horizon 2020 will be mandatory and awards will be made within 8 months as opposed to 12 months, which is the current scheme.

Read more here.

Industry – academia partnerships: way to go for anticancer drug development?

Industry – academia partnerships are increasingly growing in an effort to make the drug discovery process more efficient. In a Cancer Research UK perspective, several industrial collaborations are outlined with an eye on the distinct but com-plementary expertise brought about in anti-cancer drug development.

For more industry – academia initiatives check out

GlaxoSmithKline’s Discovery Fast Track competition for academic researchers

Eli Lilly’s Open Innovation Platform

Marie Curie’s Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP)

Read another article on industry – academia partnerships from Science Magazine and an older article from this blog on the topic here.


Five new candidate drugs are revealed in the ACS New Orleans meeting

The ACS National Spring Meeting took place 7-11 April in New Orleans.

As is traditional for the Medicinal Chemistry Division, structures of candidate drugs get revealed in the “First-Time Disclosures” session.

This year’s entries are:






More about how where these drugs discovered:http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i16/Five-New-Drug-Candidates-Structures.html


Kalydeco: The most important new drug of 2012

Kalydeco, a drug for cystic fibrosis, is the most important new drug of 2012 according to Forbes magazine and was developed by Vertex pharmaceuticals with seed funding from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disorder that results in scarring (fibrosis) and cyst formation within the pancreas, lungs, liver, and intestines.


Kalydeco’s chemical structure, costing $294,000 per patient per year

Kalydeco, given alone, will only help a few thousand patients the world over. Like other drugs for very rare diseases, its price is very high: $294,000 per patient per year.

Though its chemical structure could be routinely made by a synthetic chemist, it is covered by a patent so it is illegal to make in a lab.

The efforts to cure cystic fibrosis were spearheaded by a discovery from Francis Collins, later famous for heading the Human Genome Project and then the National Institutes of Health, who discovered the gene that, when mutated, causes cystic fibrosis 23 years ago. Kalydeco is the first drug to directly affect the defects caused by these mutations, leading to improvements in patients’ lung function.

366 Days: The Year in Science

Read below the Science Review of 2012 by Nature Magazine, with Greece making it to the top 22 “leading science nations” with 1% of the ‘most cited papers’!


Higgs boson: Proton-proton collisions as measured by Cern

Also, read on Science Magazine’s Breakthrough of the Year 2012 (Higgs Boson) and the runners-up: Genome Engineering, Curiosity Landing, Bionics, Eggs from Stem Cells, Encode, X-ray laser advances and more!




2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for Life is Chemistry.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Chemistry of Euro banknotes

Europium(III) oxide, alongside other chemicals, is phosphorescent and is used in the anti-counterfeiting details in Euro banknotes.

Europium (symbol Eu) is one of the rare earth elements and belongs to the class of  “lanthanides”.

Most of the trivalent rare earth elements are luminescent. This means that they can be excited by shining a light of a particular wavelength at them. When the ions relax again, they emit light – of a different wavelength. That is luminescence.

Euro notes luminesce in the red, green and blue (excited by 254 nm). The red light is clearly linked to europium and most likely to a Eu3+-β-diketone complex.

ChemMatters: Demystifying Everyday Chemistry for high school students

ChemMatters is a magazine for high school students and high school teachers published by the Education Division of the American Chemical Society.

The magazine, which appears four times a year, contains articles that feature real-world applications of chemistry concepts introduced in the classroom. Latest issues cover themes such as the application of nanotechnology, great discoveries in chemistry, and the science behind weather folklore.

The site provides a Teacher’s guide, videos, material for the classroom and more.

Check out the ChemMatters web site for the latest issue!

View the lastest Episode on ChemMatters: “Episode 10: Graphene: The Next Wonder Material?” on carbon allotropes and the applications of graphene.


Happy Halloween! (with a fullerene twist)

(Image by Fabiola Barrios Landeros, carved by Ivan Tubert Brohman)

The 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been won by Harold W. Kroto, Robert F. Curl and Richard E. Smalley for their discovery in 1985 of a new form of carbon, in which the atoms are arranged in hollow spheres like this pumpkin! The new form was named Buckminsterfullerene, after the architect Buckminster Fuller who designed geodesic domes in the 1960’s.

A fullerene is any molecule composed entirely of carbon, in the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid or tube. Spherical fullerenes are also called buckyballs, and they resemble the balls used in soccer. Cylindrical ones are called carbon nanotubes or buckytubes.

Structure of a fullerene. (Source: Wikipedia)
Carbon nanotube. Click on the image for an animation. (Image by Evi Gkeka)

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