Naked Mole Rats’ DNA Repair Mechanism Might Help Treat Dementia and Cancer

Many researchers say that naked mole rats – rodents of West Africa – possess a DNA repair mechanism that keeps them safe from debilitating diseases like cancer and degenerative diseases like dementia. 

Moreover, these rodents might unlock new secrets to treat various age-related diseases such as cancer and dementia.

Medical News Today also shed light on this new observation and explained how naked mole rats could help treat age-associated disorders. 

Naked Mole Rats – A Quick Insight

These cold-blooded, hairless, buck-toothed, and reclusive rodents are called the sand puppy. These pink subterranean rodents live in burrows in Eastern Africa. They reside in an underground tunnel system beneath the grasslands and deserts. 

Furthermore, they live in hierarchical colonies, and their underground room is about the size of several football pitches.  

They grow around three to thirteen inches in length, and their lifespan is greater than other rodents. They can live beyond thirty or forty years without any physiological deterioration. 

Scientists believe that naked mole rats might possess the secrets to prevent and treat age-associated diseases like cancer and dementia in humans.

What Do Studies Have to Say About These Fascinating Creatures?

Even though these naked mole rats have a small size and look scrawny, they are incredibly tough rodents. Researchers, in the past, had intensively studied these rodents, and they rarely found cancer in them. 

Moreover, they are resistant to a few types of pain, such as insect bites’ pain or consumption of toxic plants. They can also survive for almost eighteen minutes without oxygen.

Sherif El-Khamisy, the author of the recent research paper published in Int. J. Mol. Sci. (2021), stated that naked mole rats have a greater life span than other rodents of a similar weight and size. 

Plus, they live their life without experiencing age-related disorders like neurological declines, dementia, and cancer. They have a remarkable ability to deal with certain diseases and possess a unique DNA repair mechanism.

He further stated that he and his research team are trying to comprehend what makes these rodents so resistant. They are looking for answers to develop new treatments for people who have dementia or cancer. 

image depicting dna structure

Stellar DNA Protective Mechanism of Naked Mole Rats

When an animal ages, its body begins accumulating damage in the form of mutations – a process in which DNA sequence undergoes minor changes. 

Mutations cause faulty proteins to develop, and they disrupt the chemical and physical balance in the body. These disruptions cause cells to deteriorate with age slowly, and this process is termed senescence.

The senescent cell buildups negatively affect the cellular micro-environment and will cause age-related diseases, including neurodegeneration. 

However, naked mole rats function slightly differently than others. They possess an exceptional damage response system that is solely responsible for repairing DNA damage. 

Moreover, the system cuts out and replaces the DNA sequence’s faulty bases; thus, prevents the disease from spreading. 

Preventing the disease from happening is much better than repairing the damage. These rodents have extra copies of genes that encourage antioxidation. The production of antioxidants protects cells from oxidative stress damage that can lead to mutation. 

Therefore, Prof. El-Khamisy and his team believe that this could be why these naked mole rats can survive in low oxygen conditions. 

Difference Between the Cell Death Process in Humans and Naked Mole Rats

In humans, the senescent cells’ accumulation over an extended period causes degenerative diseases to occur. 

For instance, the immune system cannot remove the senescent cells due to blockages, which can develop disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

In other animals, besides humans, the immune system also clarifies all the senescent cells from the body.

Contrastingly, naked mole rats have limited age-deteriorated cells, and they die off. Therefore, buildups do not occur. 

Is There a Solution to Reverse Aging?

Prof. El-Khamisy and his research team believe that understanding these cell repair mechanisms and rodents’ anti-aging abilities can help discover new targets for curing degenerative conditions. 

He further explains that this is a new field of research, and there are plenty of things to decipher. They are hoping and trying to figure out how naked mole rats prevent age-associated diseases so that they can develop a similar system for humans. 

Or at least they can use it as a predictive tool to determine if the person will develop cancer or dementia with age. It will help them to take appropriate measures. 

João Pedro de Magalhães, professor of aging and chronic disease in the UK, highlighted that aging is an inevitable part of human life. 

He further explains that more work and clinical trials are required to understand the resistance mechanisms of these rodents before applying these studies to humans.

Prof. Magalhães further adds that more research is required to comprehend what causes the death of naked mole rats.

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