A new soldier in the war on cancer: The blind mole rat

Mar 04, 2009

If someone ever calls you a "dirty rat," consider it a compliment. A new discovery published online in the FASEB Journal shows that cellular mechanisms used by the blind mole rat to survive the very low oxygen environment of its subterranean niche are the same as those that tumors use to thrive deep in our tissues. The net effect of this discovery is two-fold: first the blind mole rat can serve a "living tumor" in cancer research; and—perhaps more important—that unique gene in the blind mole rat becomes a prime target for new anti-cancer drugs that can "suffocate" tumors.

"President Obama said in his February 24 address to the U.S. Congress that he wants to put an end to cancer, and the boost to basic science in the stimulus package is a great start," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. "But if he wants to end the longest ongoing war in U.S. history--a War on Cancer we've been fighting since before Nixon declared it in 1971—then building on this discovery is a good place to start."

To reach their finding, American and Israeli scientists from the Universities of Illinois and Haifa conducted experiments in multiple groups of "dirty" mole rats and "regular" rats. For each type of animal, a control group was exposed to normal levels of oxygen while the experimental groups were exposed to oxygen levels ranging from 3 percent to 10 percent. In the regular rats exposed to low levels of oxygen, the gene that becomes active to protect their bodies from low oxygen (BNIP3) was shown to be active in heart and skeletal muscles. In the mole rats, however, it was discovered that their version of the BNIP3 gene was much more effective at helping them tolerate low levels of oxygen than the version of the gene in "regular" rats.

"In show biz and politics, people make comebacks all the time," Weissmann added, "but rodents aren't usually that lucky. Since the bubonic plague in the 1300s, the reputation of rats has been in the sink. If the blind mole rat ultimately helps us cure cancer, it will be the greatest comeback of all time in public health and in public relations."

More information: Mark Band, Alma Joel, Alvaro Hernandez, and Aaron Avivi. Hypoxia-induced BNIP3 expression and mitophagy: in vivo comparison of the rat and the hypoxia-tolerant mole rat, Spalax ehrenbergi. FASEB J. doi:10.1096/fj.08-122978. www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/abstract/fj.08-122978v1

Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Explore further: Top Japan lab dismisses ground-breaking stem cell study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Blind mole-rats are resistant to chemically induced cancers

Sep 03, 2013

Like naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus gaber), blind mole-rats (of the genus Spalax) live underground in low-oxygen environments, are long-lived and resistant to cancer. A new study demonstrates just how cancer-resistant Spalax are, and suggests that the adapt ...

Recommended for you

Top Japan lab dismisses ground-breaking stem cell study

6 hours ago

Japan's top research institute on Friday hammered the final nail in the coffin of what was once billed as a ground-breaking stem cell study, dismissing it as flawed and saying the work could have been fabricated.

Research sheds light on what causes cells to divide

Dec 24, 2014

When a rapidly-growing cell divides into two smaller cells, what triggers the split? Is it the size the growing cell eventually reaches? Or is the real trigger the time period over which the cell keeps growing ...

Locking mechanism found for 'scissors' that cut DNA

Dec 24, 2014

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered what keeps an enzyme from becoming overzealous in its clipping of DNA. Since controlled clipping is required for the production of specialized immune system proteins, ...

Scrapie could breach the species barrier

Dec 24, 2014

INRA scientists have shown for the first time that the pathogens responsible for scrapie in small ruminants (prions) have the potential to convert the human prion protein from a healthy state to a pathological ...

Extracting bioactive compounds from marine microalgae

Dec 24, 2014

Microalgae can produce high value health compounds like omega-3s , traditionally sourced from fish. With declining fish stocks, an alternative source is imperative. Published in the Pertanika Journal of Tr ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.