Washington: The chemical that makes naked mole rats cancer-proof has been identified by two researchers at the University of Rochester.
The findings could eventually lead to new cancer treatments in people, said study authors Andrei Seluanov and Vera Gorbunova.
Naked mole rats are small, hairless, subterranean rodents that have never been known to get cancer, despite having a 30-year lifespan. The research group led by Seluanov and Gorbunova discovered that these rodents are protected from cancer because their tissues are very rich with high molecular weight hyaluronan (HMW-HA).
The biologists` focus on HMW-HA began after they noticed that a gooey substance in the naked mole rat culture was clogging the vacuum pumps and tubing. They also observed that, unlike the naked mole rat culture, other media containing cells from humans, mice, and guinea pigs were not viscous.
"We needed to understand what the goo was," said Seluanov.
Gorbunova and Seluanov identified the substance as HMW-HA, which caused them to test its possible role in naked mole rat`s cancer resistance.
They then showed that when HMW-HA was removed, the cells became susceptible to tumors, confirming that the chemical did play a role in making naked mole rats cancer-proof.
The Rochester team also identified the gene, named HAS2, responsible for making HMW-HA in the naked mole rat. Surprisingly, the naked mole rat gene was different from HAS2 in all other animals. In addition the naked mole rats were very slow at recycling HMW-HA, which contributed to the accumulation of the chemical in the animals` tissues.
Hyaluronan (HA), which makes tissues supple and aids in the healing process, is found in high concentrations in the skin of naked mole rats. The biologists speculate that the rodents developed higher levels of HA in their skin to accommodate life in underground tunnels.
Future research from the Gorbunova and Seluanov labs will focus on determining whether the HMW-HA from naked mole rats may have clinical value for either treating or preventing cancer in humans.
Their research paper will be published this week in the journal Nature.