Study finds chemical behind cancer resistance in naked mole rats

June 19, 2013
Naked mole rats are subterranean rodents that have never been known to get cancer. Credit: Brandon Vick/ University of Rochester

Two researchers at the University of Rochester have discovered the chemical that makes naked mole rats cancer-proof. Their research paper will be published this week in the journal Nature.

The findings could eventually lead to new 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 . The research group led by Seluanov and Gorbunova discovered that these rodents are protected from cancer because their tissues are very rich with high 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 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.

Seluanov and Gorbunova 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 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.

Naked mole rats are subterranean rodents that have never been known to get cancer. Credit: Brandon Vick/ University of Rochester

The next step will be to test the effectiveness of HMW-HA in mice. If that test goes well, Seluanov and Gorbunova hope to try the chemical on . "There's indirect evidence that HMW-HA would work in people," said Seluanov. "It's used in anti-wrinkle injections and to relieve pain from arthritis in knee joints, without any adverse effects. Our hope is that it can also induce an anti-cancer response."

"A lot of cancer research focuses on animals that are prone to cancer," said Gorbunova. "We think it's possible to learn strategies for preventing tumors by studying animals that are cancer-proof."

Previous research by Seluanov and Gorbunova showed that the p16 gene in naked mole rats stopped the proliferation of cells when too many of them crowd together. In their latest work, the two biologists identified HMW-HA as the chemical that activates the anti-cancer response of the p16 gene.

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This is footage of a naked mole rat in the Gorbunova and Seluanov Labs at the University of Rochester. Credit: Matthew Mann/ University of Rochester

The research was supported by grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Ellison Medical Foundation.

(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 may have clinical value for either treating or preventing cancer in humans.

Explore further: Researchers discover how mole rat wards off cancer

More information: Paper: DOI: 10.1038/nature12234

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2.8 / 5 (11) Jun 19, 2013
There is no big pharma money model to profit from these drugs hence no point in funding extensive human trials. Put them on shelves as neutraceuticals and monitor over the counter use for anti carcinogenic effects. Solicit voluntary reporting of the drug uusers cancer status....

Maybe not a great clinical trial but its free.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2013
I wouldn't be so skeptical regarding the business model, until HMW-HA just "prevents" the cancer instead of actually curing it.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2013
Can it really be so simple that just adding this goo to a human makes the human cancer-resistant?
4 / 5 (4) Jun 19, 2013
This chemical also has an additional upside.

It also makes em real purdy animals.
3.4 / 5 (8) Jun 19, 2013
And to think that the Republicans were trying their best to destroy the National Institute of health just a few years ago.

5 / 5 (5) Jun 19, 2013
"See your doctor if you experience blindness or hair loss"
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2013
Would you be willing to look like that to avoid cancer? Interesting psychology question, what we'd be willing to give up for immunity.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2013
There is no big pharma money model to profit from these drugs hence no point in funding extensive human trials.

A lot of people say this sort of thing, the whole, "There's more money in a treatment than a cure" line; but I disagree. From the entrenched pharma companies, it's a possibility. But there are so many startups trying to get into the arena. I would think a cure for cancer would be enough to make a company extremely rich, even if it was a bona fide permanent cure/vaccine. They would have a market of 7,000,000,000 and growing and could charge basically whatever they wanted in developed countries.

Not to mention having your name go down in the history books next to the words "Cured cancer."
not rated yet Jun 20, 2013
The high molecular wight would create a problem with the blood-brain barrier. To have this substance available at high levels thorough all human tissues, I suppose we would need germline GM to produce it without pharmaceutical intervention.
Never mind, once the technology exists, parents will pressure the politicians to make germline GM legal. Once the richest decide to get their kids immunity to cancer, the politcians will fold.
not rated yet Jun 20, 2013
I've been taking hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid) daily for two years, because of damage to an inner shoulder joint. It has been very helpful in reducing pain and improving function, but the pain starts to return whenever I quit taking it, so I will probably have to take it forever. Luckily it's not expensive and if it inhibits cancer it will be the best investment I made.
1 / 5 (5) Jun 20, 2013
Yah seriously, dumbass. Nobody else could have spent the same dollars on the same problem and got the same result. - Vermin
not rated yet Jun 22, 2013
Is it the chemical itself that's preventing or attacking cancer cells? Or, is it partly due to the viscous state building up to an intolerable level for tumours to explode with growth? Does anyone know if different states of, or surrounding, organic matter affect prevention or growth of cancer cells i.e.solid, viscous, liquid, gas? Just a thought that Google refused to expound upon.

Cheers :)

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