Naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) are remarkable animals that are widely studied in ageing, stroke and cancer research, thanks to their longevity, ability to survive in low-oxygen environments and resistance to developing cancer. But in a case study published in Veterinary Pathology at the start of this month, scientists submitted the first ever reports of full-blown cancer in two naked mole-rats.
In the first case, a 22-year old male (naked-mole rats typically live up to 30 years) at a zoo in Chicago developed a mass on his chest, which turned out to be adenocarcinoma (cancer of epithelial tissue origin). The mass was surgically removed, and at a three-month checkup, the animal was still cancer-free. The second animal, at a zoo in Washington D.C., unfortunately died, and necropsy showed a mass in its stomach that turned out to be neuroendocrine carcinoma (cancer of the nervous and hormone systems).
This case report shows us that in contrast to what was previously thought, naked mole-rats are not entirely immune to cancer: researchers working with these animals should monitor for signs of malignancies. But the fact still remains that the incidence of cancer in naked mole-rats is remarkably low. They will remain a highly interesting animal for studying the genes and mechanisms important for fighting off cancer.