Scientists say hairless mole rats – a rodent native to West Africa – may hold the key to new treatments for degenerative diseases such as cancer and dementia.
Recluse animals have a much longer lifespan than other rodents – for example, mice and rats live about two years, while hairless mole rats can live 40 or 50 years.
Researchers at the University of Bradford say animals have a unique DNA repair mechanism that helps them prevent cancer and other degenerative diseases, including dementia.
Professor Sherif El-Khamisy, director of the University’s Institute for Cancer Therapy, said: “Naked mole rats are fascinating creatures, not least because they live so long compared to other rodents in the world. the same size. They also don’t suffer from – what we call in humans – age-associated disorders, such as cancer, dementia, and neurological decline.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out what makes them so resistant, and then try to use that knowledge to come up with new treatments for cancer and diseases like dementia in humans.
“It’s not about extending life, but about extending the quality of life.”
Professor El-Khamisy, from the University’s Faculty of Life Sciences, is the lead author of an article titled DNA Homeostasis and Senescence: Lessons from the Naked Mole Rat, recently published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
He says, “As we age, our bodies accumulate damage in the form of DNA mutations. These mutations lead to the generation of suboptimal proteins, resulting in inadequate cellular homeostasis and senescence *. The accumulation of senescent cells negatively affects the local cellular microenvironment and leads to diseases associated with aging, including neurodegeneration.
“Which processes show an increased burden as hairless mole rats age may identify new biological targets to alleviate our own degeneration.”
Professor El-Khamisy added: “This is a new area of research, so there is still a lot that we don’t know. For example, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are caused by aggregates of proteins in the brain and this has been a puzzle for scientists for many years. There are questions about how these proteins are formed and also how the body manages them. Obviously, hairless mole rats are much better at dealing with them than we are.
“If we can figure out how they do this, we might consider adopting similar systems in humans or using these markers as a predictive tool to be able to say ‘this person is more likely to develop dementia or cancer as they get older.’ , then take appropriate action. “
Hairless Mole Rats Fact Sheet
Naked mole rats are mostly hairless, wrinkled rodents that measure between three and 13 inches.
They live 40 to 50 years and are immune to cancer and certain types of pain, such as that caused by biting insects and spicy plants.
In the wild, they live in hierarchical colonies (with a queen, soldiers, and workers) sometimes numbering as many as 300, creating a maze of underground tunnels and rooms the size of several football fields.
They live most of their lives in caves or underground, but despite their lack of sun exposure, they have a strong circadian rhythm.
A naked mole rat weighs less than a penny.
* In biology, homeostasis is the state of stable internal, physical and chemical conditions maintained by living systems; while senescence is the condition or process of deterioration with age.