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Hairless Mole Rat Resistant to Cancer, Here's Why

Update Date: Jun 19, 2013 11:43 PM EDT

Researchers have learnt that naked mole rats produce a unique compound that gives them a natural resistance to cancer, fuelling hope that the mammal may help the fight against cancer in humans.

The study, published in the journal Nature, said that the skin cells of the naked mole-rat are high in a natural sugary substance that prevents tumors from developing.

This key molecule is called hyaluronan. It exists in long chains around cells holding them together in tissues. The hyaluronan chains found in mole rats are many times larger than the kinds found in shorter-lived mammals, like mice and humans, the study noted.

To understand whether this unusual hyaluroanan was responsible for cancer resistance in naked mole rats, the researchers increased the amount of enzyme that degrades the chemical, reducing its molecular weight. They then begin to notice that the mole's cells began to grow in thick clusters like cancerous mouse cells do.

Researchers, Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov, a husband-and-wife team of biologists at the University of Rochester, believe that long chains are the key as they prevent healthy cells from becoming cancer cells.

"Studying animals that are naturally cancer-resistant can be very rewarding and can lead to discovery of mechanisms that can benefit humans in terms of treatment and prevention of cancer," Dr Gorbunova  said according to the BBC news.

Naked mole rats are unique looking mammals that are basically hairless with long front teeth they use for burrowing and digging up food and have been compared to "tiny walrus - or perhaps a bratwurst with teeth." They live in underground groups similar to insects like ants and bees. 

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