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There’s a ridiculous amount of hype in science today, and in an area as sexy as cancer research it is perhaps even worse. In writing this post, I am mindful of the “sharks don’t get cancer” trope that’s been used irresponsibly to sell shark cartilage as snake oil, very often to people who are in a desperate situation. Consider that a disclaimer.

There is, reportedly, a very low incidence of cancerous tumors in naked mole rats. Statements like “there has never been a tumor found in a naked mole rat” may be misleading unless they also explain to us just who is looking for tumors in naked mole rats, how long they’ve been doing so, how hard they’re looking, who’s paying for it, and why. Still, I think this paragraph is interesting:

The findings, presented in today’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the mole rat’s cells express a gene called p16 that makes the cells “claustrophobic,” stopping the cells’ proliferation when too many of them crowd together, cutting off runaway growth before it can start. The effect of p16 is so pronounced that when researchers mutated the cells to induce a tumor, the cells’ growth barely changed, whereas regular mouse cells became fully cancerous.

Of course, there’s all kinds of reasons why it might work for naked mole rats and not for people, but the idea that a mechanism as simple as cellular “claustrophobia” might go so far to eliminating tumors is pretty interesting. Here’s the original abstract at PNAS.

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    You can extend that Shark Oil logic to the problems the Swedes have with the GSK swine flu vaccine.

  2. tenax8.myopenid.com says:

    Obligatory “This isn’t DIY how is this related to Make?!?!” snarky comment. There, it’s out of the way.

    Very cool.

  3. Volkemon says:

    @tenax8.myopenid.com-

    “Oh yeah?! Lets see your research project into cancer resistant animals” is another waiting in the wings:)

    Indeed. Very neat news, hope someone who can use this tidbit MAKEs something out of it.

    Thanks SMR!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Not getting cancer just adds to an already highly impressive list: naked mole-rats can’t regulate their body temperatures, they are the longest lived rodent recorded, and they have super low basal metabolic rates. Interestingly enough, low metabolic rates might be the link that connects all of these.

    For more information, please go to:
    http://www.scientificblogging.com/what_life/blog/naked_truth_cool_rodents_provide_insights_longevity

    You can vote for the naked mole-rats article by just clicking the VOTE button!