NAKED MOLE RATS REVEAL CLUES TO CANCER-FREE AGEING
The long, cancer-free lives of naked mole rats are intriguing. These rodents can live for up to 30 years, much longer than most animals of their size, and are resistant to many age-related diseases. Now, researchers from the University of Rochester have revealed a clue to these animals’ remarkable longevity.
The team wanted to find out if naked mole rats have evolved to eliminate cellular senescence: a mechanism that prevents damaged cells from dividing out of control. Senescence is a mixed blessing, because while it protects against cancer, it also accelerates ageing.
“In humans, as in mice, ageing and cancer have competing interests,” said lead author Prof Vera Gorbunova. “In order to prevent cancer, you need to stop cells from dividing. However, to prevent ageing, you want to keep cells dividing in order to replenish tissues.”
Scientists have already tried to reverse the ageing process in mice by removing senescent cells, and it worked – the mice became less frail. This suggested that eliminating senescence might be the key to longevity, one which naked mole rats might already be employing.
Unexpectedly, the researchers found that naked mole rats do exhibit senescence but it doesn’t work in the same way it does in mice. Senescence in mice permanently stops a cell from dividing, but the cell continues to metabolise. Naked mole rats, however, are able to strongly inhibit this metabolic process, resisting ageing effects. “It seems small,” said Gorbunova, “but maybe it’s what’s really important.”
Gorbunova and her team will continue to study these animals in the hope of finding a way keep us healthy into old age. “By studying naked mole rats and other long-lived mammals, we can find something to borrow to improve human health,” Gorbunova said.
Naked mole rats inhabit burrows in the deserts of eastern Africa. They have an intriguing social structure, which is similar to that seen in ant or bee colonies