What they lack in hair and beauty, these long-living rodents make up for in prognosis. Naked Mole rats outlive their fellow rodent brethren by an outstanding life expectancy of approximately 30 years (Rochester). This unusual quality is caused by their resilience to any and all forms of cancer. These sturdy rodents have managed to evade America's second leading cause of death (CDC). What causes the phenomenon I like to creatively refer to as "The Mole Rat Mutation"? One word: hyaluron (Rochester).
Mole Rats possess tissues rich in high molecular weight hyaluron (HMW-HA) (Rochester). The gene responsible for creating this tissue, HAS2, while present in humans and other mammals, does not have the same effect (Rochester). Another difference among organisms were the rats did not recycle the HMW-HA as quickly, and it led to buildup of the chemicals in their tissues (Rochester). This agglomeration of the chemical is what is likely causing their tissue to resist malignant and benign tumors alike. The evidence behind the prior statement arose when the same researchers who found the substance, removed it, and resulted in the mole rats becoming prone to cancerous tumors. Rochester scientists believe that the substance is "cancer-proof" because of its extremely flexible skin. One prediction made from this thought process is the flexible skin was caused by evolution, allowing the rodents to go through underground tunnels (BBC).
What is almost as peculiar as the trait itself was the very process behind discovering it: goo. Yes, folks, goo. When researchers collected a mole rat culture, they found a sugary gooey substance, which unlike cultures from other animals, had a certain viscosity to it (Rochester). This goo was clogging the vacuums and tubings of the containers they were in, and led to the curiosity of the Rochester researchers, Seluanov and Gorbunova and their team (Rochester). So it seems safe to say that pesky rodents being their pesky selves led to the further research of the mole rat and the connection with the substance found in their skin and their inability to become afflicted with cancer.
This special hyaluron certainly calls for mole rat envy. There is little harm in jealousy within science, in fact, I believe that they key to innovation is both in yearning and striving towards the things we don't have. By using this newfound information, scientists could attempt to replicate and possibly create their own version of this specific hyaluron tissue. A chemical similar to the tissue is already in use as both an anti-wrinkle agent and an analgesic for pain in the knee joints for arthritis (BBC). This already existing chemical only serves to further the idea that scientists could hypothetically replicate the gene necessary for this special defender.
Our first steps to make mole rat skin a viable source for humans would be our ability to manipulate the HAS2 gene to fulfill our needs. In a sector where sheeps can be cloned, supercomputers exist, and rockets can be launched, this does not seem far-fetched. And what is science without crazy ideas and devout scientists who dedicate their lives to completing them. This research on mole rats ties into one of the greatest funded medical research in our current time: cancer. A successful attempt on our part to manipulate this gene in our favor would have the multitudinous cancer research organizations/foundations of all forms of cancer going berserk. No longer would patients have to suffer from continuous bouts of chemotherapy and aggressive drugs to merely live.
However, the ability to remake this skin would not only lead to a dramatic shift into cancer treatment, but could act as a gateway into the future of cancer prevention. By manipulating the genes, we could make ourselves immune to cancer and equate ourselves with the sturdy mole rats in regards to tumors. No longer would we face the issue of treatment or prognosis in clinics/hospitals/organizations, but instead deal with the more pleasant and hopeful topic of prevention.
Learning from another's experience is to live vicariously. This theme has lead to the creation of some of the greatest scientific discoveries, even the foundations of science. Darwin learned the theory of evolution from the varieting beaks of finches; Mendel composed basic concepts in genetics and the development of the Punnett Square with his peas plants. It only seems fitting that we follow up in the new year with the discovery for the treatment/prevention of cancer through the ever mysterious mole rat.
Author's Note: Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22961694