Why blind mole rats don't get cancer

There are two species of rodents known for their long lives and abilities to avoid cancer. First is the infinitely creepy looking naked mole rat. Less well known, and just as subterranean, is the blind mole rat. We know something of how naked mole rats are cancer resistant, but what about these fuzzy, blind guys?

Blind mole rats live up to 21 years old, and are adept at avoiding the cancers that so frequently do in mammals. So, how do we analyze the way these creatures fight tumors? By inducing them, of course.

Researchers forced fibroblast cells to grow at an increased rate to simulate cancer. This triggered the release of interferon (IFN-β if you want to get precise), and the rat's bodies responded by inducing "massive necrotic cell death" in the growth. It's thought this is caused by amino acid substitutions in the p53 and Rb pathways. It's thought this adaptation evolved to deal with life in low-oxygen conditions underground.

What's interesting is that both varieties of mole rat — naked and blind — have completely different methods of fighting cancer, but both are very effective. Now the trick is seeing if there's a way to apply these same methods to humans.

Photo by Rollin Verlinde