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The Cancer Resistance of the Naked Mole Rat

The naked mole rat also known as the sand puppy or desert mole rat, is a burrowing rodent native to parts of East Africa and the only species currently classified in the genus Heterocephalus. It has a highly unusual set of physical traits that enables it to thrive in an otherwise harsh, underground environment, including being the only cold blooded mammal, a lack of pain sensation in its skin and a very low metabolism.


Resistance to cancer

Naked mole rats appear to have a high resistance to cancer; cancer has never been observed in them. A potential mechanism that averts cancer is an “over-crowding” gene, p16, which prevents cell division once a group of cells reaches a certain size. Most mammals, including naked mole rats, have the gene p27 which does a similar task, but prevents cellular reproduction at a much later point than p16 does. The combination of p16 and p27 in naked mole rats cells is a double barrier to cell proliferation. Hypersensitivity to contact inhibition may be the reason for the cancer resistance of the naked mole rat.