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Naked Mole Rats Do Get Cancer

Posted on 10 February 2016

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Credit: Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Credit: Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Naked mole rats are small eusocial animals who live in underground burrows in Eastern-Africa. Each colony is made of 20 to 300 individuals with one reproductive female, the queen, a few reproductive males and the rest are non-reproductive workers and soldiers. They have increasingly become a popular experimental model to study aging and cancer due to their extraordinary long lifespan and resistance to aging. Naked mole rats can live up to 30 years, making them the longest living rodents. Until now not a single case of overt cancer was ever reported in these animals and only 4 animals with precancerous lesions have been described. In a new report published in Veterinary Pathology two causes of naked mole rats who suffer from cancer have now been described. 

No one’s perfect

The first animal was a 22 year old male living in the Brookfield zoo (Illinois). The animal had a mass located around the right axilla. The mass was surgically removed and determined to be an adenocarcinoma. The report stated that the animal was returned to its colony but it did not indicate if the animal remained cancer-free. The second animal was a confirmed 16-year old (but possibly 20 year old) male living in the National Zoological Park in Washington DC. The animal was euthanized due to a severe facial dermatitis (a skin disease) and progressive weight loss. During autopsy a tumor in the stomach of the animal was detected that upon investigation turned out to be a gastric neuroendocrine carcinoma.    

So while naked mole rats may not have perfect protection against cancer, cancer remains extremely rare in these animals. Hence naked mole rats will still be able to teach us a lot about cancer and protective mechanisms against cancer. 

Read the report here

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