Scientists Find How Naked Mole Rats May Be The Solution To Curing Cancer And Dementia
New observations have recently been made and these have shed light on how the naked mole rat could actually be the secret to the treatment of age-related disease.
Experts have seen how naked mole rats live for over 30 years. This is a much longer lifespan when compared to other rodents, and they live long without developing degenerative diseases during old age. The animal’s apparent “immunity” to aging is because of its unique protective mechanisms that help safeguard them against DNA damage that result from mutations due to oxidative stress. And upon closer observation, scientists hypothesize how these unusual creatures may be the key to the secret to preventing and treating age-related conditions like cancer, dementia, or Parkinson’s disease.
The hairless, buck-toothed, and cold-blooded naked mole rat is definitely an unusual-looking animal that could leave you shocked. It grows to between 3 and 13 inches in length and makes its home in a complex underground tunnel system oftentimes underneath the deserts and grasslands of east Africa.
Despite its strange looks, the naked mole rat’s most curious feature is its ability to live longer than other rodents. These animals can live for more than 30 years. This far beyond the lifespan of its other cousins. As they age, they don’t suffer from the physiological deterioration that affects most animals that have aged as well.
Scientists now consider this apparent immunity to aging may be the very secret to preventing and treating aging-related diseases. Dementia or cancer may no longer be a problem should they stumble upon the link when it comes to creating a cure.
Mole Rats – A Biological Marvel of Nature
Despite their relatively miniature stature, naked mole rats are incredibly tough creatures. Their hardy health is something to aspire for. Researchers have studied and observed thousands of these rodents and have rarely, if ever, found them to suffer from cancer. They are also resistant to certain types of pain, such as the ones animals get from insect bites or from eating toxic plants. More importantly, they have the uncanny ability to survive an environment that deprives them from oxygen for as long as 18 long minutes.
Sherif El-Khamisy, a professor of Cancer Therapeutics at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom and co-author of a recent paper that came out in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, spoke to MNT about such a phenomenon and said, “They live remarkably longer than [other] animals of the same size and weight, and they do so without experiencing aging-associated diseases.” He further explained, “Their proficient ability to deal with threats to the genome is remarkable.”
Right now, the professor also said, “What we’re trying to do is understand what makes them so resistant and then try to harness that knowledge to come up with new treatments for cancer and conditions [such as] dementia in people.” It is with a hope that they can finally stumble upon a breakthrough in order to help save human lives.
The Protective Mechanisms in Mole Rats
As most animals age, the body accumulates damage in the form of mutations. What are these damages that we may be all afflicted with? These are actually small and sometimes imperceptible changes in the DNA sequence. While these aren’t immediately noticeable, the cumulative changes do affect overall health. These said mutations can lead to the production of faulty proteins and these could disrupt the balance of physical and chemical conditions within the body. The changes will eventually cause cells to deteriorate as we age in a process that’s referred to senescence.
In naked mole rats, however, things work altogether differently, which is a curious thing. These rodents have a superior damage response system that tends to work overtime and extra hard in order to repair DNA damage more quickly efficiently. This response serves to cut out and replace the faulty bases that are now found in the DNA sequence.
The response is even more ideal and so much better than repairing damage. Because this is able to prevent it from happening in the first place. Naked mole rats have an extra copy of a gene in the DNA that promotes antioxidants. In the end, this action safeguards cells against damage from oxidative stress that can bring about mutations. Prof. El-Khamisy and his colleagues consider this to be an adaptation to the low oxygen conditions in their underground habitat that they have lived on since they were born.
The Ability to Perfect Cell Death in Animals
Cell death in humans happen during the accumulation of senescent cells that happens over time. These have been behind the degenerative diseases that develop in the body. For instance, blockages that prevent the removal of senescent cells by the immune system are oftentimes signs of some age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Ironically and interestingly enough, naked mole rats have far fewer of these age-deteriorated cells as they’ve observed through the studies made.
In most of the animals in this planet, the immune system clears the senescent cells. It is far different in mole rats because their bodies kill the aged cells and they die spontaneously. Hence, the buildups never happen in the first place.
The End of the Aging Process
Prof. El-Khamisy and colleagues hope to further study and understand these mechanisms. Their findings could help pinpoint new targets when it comes to the treatment of degenerative conditions. It may also eventually give humans the ability to tap into the anti-aging abilities of naked mole rats.
El-Khamisy shared, “If we can work out how they do this, we could look to adopt similar systems in humans or to use these markers as a predictive tool to be able to say ‘this person is more likely to develop dementia or cancer as they age,’ and then take appropriate steps.” Of course, aging will always and probably remain an inevitable part of our lives. This is what they see in the foreseeable future, and according to Joao Pedro de Magalhães, a professor of aging and chronic disease at the University of Liverpool in the UK, this will continue to happen in the years to come. In fact, he explained, “In terms of translating findings from these extreme animals into humans, I think it’s still early days. We have a glimpse of the longevity and disease resistance mechanisms that these species have, but there is still a lot of work before we can translate it to humans.”
Prof. Magalhães also says that further research is much needed in order to understand more what happens to naked mole rats in their later years in life. As for now, he said, “We know very little about causes of death in naked mole rats [as] very few old animals have been studied.”
“They do appear to age,” he further stated, “Contrary to what you might read.” Hence, while much has yet to be done, the mole rats may be the very answer to extending the average lifespan in animals, particularly in humans.