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Discovery of "Cancer-Proof" Rodent Cells

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the don't-crowd-me dept.

Biotech 118

anglico sends news of research out of the University of Rochester that has identified a gene that "cancer-proofs" cells in rodents. "Despite a 30-year lifespan that gives ample time for cells to grow cancerous, a small rodent species called a naked mole rat has never been found with tumors of any kind — and now biologists at the University of Rochester think they know why. The findings, presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the mole rat's cells express a gene called p16 that makes the cells 'claustrophobic,' stopping the cells' proliferation when too many of them crowd together, cutting off runaway growth before it can start. The effect of p16 is so pronounced that when researchers mutated the cells to induce a tumor, the cells' growth barely changed, whereas regular mouse cells became fully cancerous."

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Too bad... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892335)

Homo sapiens couldn't have had sex with mole rats.

Re:Too bad... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892421)

I have proof that mole rats did, in fact, have sex with homo sapiens.

I present the proof [scrapetv.com] .

Gentlemen, I await my much deserved Nobel Peace Prize, you can mail it to the usual address.

Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892339)

Given that the popular literature is telling us that many cancers are caused by virii, what is the resistance to virus infection by these cells relative to the mouse cells?

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (5, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892359)

Judging by the story, and in the context of my almost complete lack of formal training in cell biology, it sounds like the cells might not be resistant to cancer-causing virii, but rather it just means the infected cells can't multiply past a certain point. Sort of like carrying a disease but not showing any symptoms.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892739)

one of those symptoms being death

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (5, Informative)

Trebawa (1461025) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892777)

The thing is, that's one of the things that defines cancer, so this is an important step towards defeating it. Cancer isn't one disease; it's pretty much any mutation (or, more commonly, series of mutations) that make a cell or group of cells override the checks that the body usually puts on division. Cancer cells don't exhibit density-dependent inhibition like normal cells; it sounds like this p16 gene can help enforce this despite mutations in what are normally oncogenes.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (3, Informative)

Stiletto (12066) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892783)

Pet Peeve: What the hell is a "virii"? Don't you mean "viruses"? [archive.org]

Jeez...

Language is defined by usage, not dictionaries (1, Funny)

Rix (54095) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893005)

Or no longer present articles on perl.com.

Re:Language is defined by usage, not dictionaries (3, Insightful)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893289)

Generally you can tell the pros and people in the know from the wannabees by their correct use of terms.

Re:Language is defined by usage, not dictionaries (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#29894919)

I think you mean "the noobs"

Re:Language is defined by usage, not dictionaries (2, Funny)

psp (7269) | more than 4 years ago | (#29894969)

I think you mean "the noobs"

It's noobii actually.

Re:Language is defined by usage, not dictionaries (4, Funny)

TheoMurpse (729043) | more than 4 years ago | (#29895089)

I actually prefer to pluralize in accordance with the original Hebrew: Noobim.

Re:Language is defined by usage, not dictionaries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29893459)

well, that just flingles the alagok of the worbly woo.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29895423)

No, he means "virus".

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892959)

Chemotherapy drugs seem to rely on this already. The problem is that we need some cells in our body to proliferate. For example in the bone marrow, the digestive system and the immune system. My wife's father died from a toxic reaction to chemotherapy drugs when the drug killed his bone marrow.

I would be more interested if this technique could be more selective in the tissues it impacts, but then you still have to treat cancer in normally fast growing tissues.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

justthinkit (954982) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893575)

Nova's "Ghost In Your Genes" documents a new approach to genetics and reveals the increased importance of epigenetics. This specific excerpt from the transcript hints at it:

What we are trying to do is diplomacy, trying to change the instructions of the cancer cells, reminding the cell, "Hey, you're a human cell. You shouldn't be behaving this way."

I found it a rather profound show and watched the DVD several times in a row. Note that the 2005 BBC version (on YouTube) is quite inferior to the 2006 WGBH/Nova one I managed to find on de.sevenload.com. Here are the 6 parts, TinyURL'd: 1 [tinyurl.com] 2 [tinyurl.com] 3 [tinyurl.com] 4 [tinyurl.com] 5 [tinyurl.com] 6 [tinyurl.com] .

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29893663)

cancer is not caused by virii but by mistakes within the cells.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (4, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892495)

The short answer is no. p16 would help stop a virus from causing cancer but it would not prevent the virus from infecting the cell. If you're curious about some of the research being done on the phenomena of viruses causing cancer then I'll direct your attention here [colostate.edu] . The HTLV-1 provirus hijacks p300 and CREB and uses them to reproduce its self. p300 is a transcriptional co-activator which basically means that it greatly increases the rate of transcription of a gene. p16 wouldn't stop the infection of the cell nor would it stop the virus from hijacking these cellular proteins. However, it would help keep cell division relatively under control.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892565)

My understanding is that one of the primary causes of aging in humans is that a protein that extends telomeres after cell division is turned off in most cells. Additionally as I understood it the only purpose of turning production of this protein off is to prevent cancer.

If p16 functions the same way in humans as it does in mice does this open a potential alternative to telomere shortening and thus a pathway to the elimination of aging?

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (4, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892645)

If p16 functions the same way in humans as it does in mice does this open a potential alternative to telomere shortening and thus a pathway to the elimination of aging?

No. As is the case with these moles, the indefinite extension of telomeres does not eliminate aging. Cell division requires that the genome be replicated and that requires a small segment of DNA be snipped off the ends of chromosomes. The telomeres act as a piece of code for this purpose that once sacrificed causes no real harm to the organism. The telomeres are repeats of the sequence TTAGGG in humans which forms hydrogen bonds with its self forming a quadruple helix acting as a cap for the ends of chromosomes. Once the telomeres are eliminated, the ends of chromosomes are treated as double strand breaks by genetic repair machinery which more often than not, results in apoptosis, chromosome joining and ultimately cancer in some cases. Much of aging has to do with genetic damage and incorrect methylation of base pairs in genes. Telomerase (the enzyme that extends telomeres) would not stop that kind of aging process.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892957)

This is not strictly true. There are cell lines that are so-called 'immortalized', and have been dividing continuously for many years with no signs of slowing down. They typically have very high expression of telomerase and other protective factors. Cancer can be thought of as an immortalized cell line in a living body.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (3, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892967)

Cancer cells are indeed immortalized and can live on their own practically indefinitely. However, they also have numerous mutations that change their cellular physiology significantly. Immortalization allows for indefinite cell reproductive life but it does not in of its self grant that life.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893017)

telomeres can be thought of as one part of the aging process. if the person you responded to had talked about DNA methylation or mutations, you could have responded by saying "well what about telomeres!" my point is that its involved, and from what I have been taught they play quite a large role in aging.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893175)

They serve as a longevity boundry. That is why they are important. However, their continued presence does not play as large a role in aging as was once believed.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893255)

that's a little silly to say. are you suggesting that telomeres evolved to place an upper limit on an organism's lifespan? I doubt you believe that.

telomerase is expressed at very low levels in adult somatic cells -> telomeres shorten, eventually get lost -> genes get lost. in what way is this not a large part of aging?

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (2, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893469)

That telomeric shortening does not occur in many different species. They age just like every other species does. But that is all beside the point. You can't just shut off aging just by fixing the telomeres; aging is a much more complicated problem than that.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893603)

really? how do you explain how those species overcome the end replication problem? we agree that aging is more complex than just telomeres... nobody thinks that. perhaps in the mainstream media.

i never said that telomeres were the answer to aging. but i did say that highly active telomerase is a characteristic trait among immortal cell lines. and that they are deeply involved in the aging process, especially in humans (which is the species in question). yes, many (not all) of those lines are messed up in one way or another. the point stands though: if there is a possibility of extending human lifespans through biotechnology, you can be sure that telomeres will be involved. i mean, just think of cancer. telomeres and telomerase are a key component of how cancer manages to sustain such explosive growth. if we had a good telomerase RT inhibitor, it would help greatly against cancer. once we do, average human age will necessarily increase, ergo biochemical control of telomeres is intimately related to aging.

Immortality? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29893331)

1. Set up a Gene bank with intact chromosomes from when your in your 20-30's.

2. Replace old you genes with young you genes?

3. Profit! (Immortality!)

Re:Immortality? (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893481)

assuming that you could preserve the methylation of your DNA for various tissues and safely repair the damage aging has done, then yes.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893353)

"Once the telomeres are eliminated, the ends of chromosomes are treated as double strand breaks by genetic repair machinery which more often than not, results in apoptosis, chromosome joining and ultimately cancer in some cases."

So the way in which p16 is believed to protect cells from cancer does not conflict with turning on telomerase and turning on telomerase would prevent this kind of damage causing at least some impact on aging and cell damage.

"Much of aging has to do with genetic damage"

Wouldn't immortalizing healthy undamaged cells counteract this to some extent?

If nothing else it would seem as if this may at least be part of the puzzle along with increased antioxidants, sunscreen, and viagra.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (3, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893501)

every time a cell divides, there's a chance that the DNA won't get copied quite correctly. The error rate is around 1 in 10^9 for humans and varies from species to species. The more times the cell divides, the more errors accumulate. Immortalization doesn't just switch off the damage as it seems that you are thinking that it would. It just means that the number of times the cell can divide isn't limited by telomere length any more.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 4 years ago | (#29894031)

Limiting division by telomere length kills off healthy and undamaged cells preventing them from dividing. Removing this "feature" while introducing a replacement mechanism to protect from cancer would leave only damaged cells unable to reproduce.

All else being equal that should increase the ratio of undamaged cells to damaged cells.

I really don't see how anyone could deny that would be a good thing.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29894503)

given a proper genetic repair mechanism, improved and redundant cell cycle regulator genes and telomerase then sure, you could increase human lifespan. These cells only need to replicate themselves to replace damaged cells so hardening cells against genetic damage in of its self significantly reduces the need for the cell divisions that degrade the telomeres in the first place.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 4 years ago | (#29895529)

I fail to see how a virus could cause cancer because the whole point of a virus is to reproduce. To do this it infects a cell, reproduces inside the cell until the cell dies and basically explodes, scattering the virus back into the wild where it infects more cells. Cancer does not suffer from cell death or explosion, in fact it is pretty much the opposite. If cells were exploding then the immune system would notice something going on, which in the case of cancer, it doesn't. So how does the virus spread if it's stuck inside a steadily growing cell ?

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (4, Informative)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892639)

Given that the popular literature is telling us that many cancers are caused by virii, what is the resistance to virus infection by these cells relative to the mouse cells?

Good question!

Most of the viruses strongly associated with cancer work by specifically inactivating proteins which safeguard against cancer, or they produce tons of a protein or several proteins that urges the cell towards mad replication. A virus infecting a cell often has a vested interest in seeing that one cell produce as much as possible to produce more virus. (If computers could reproduce themselves, undoubtedly some botnets would have their infected computers reproduce for much the same reason.) A major safeguard against cancer though is limiting cell division in most cells, so cells which are urged to divide without limits by a virus lack that major safeguard against cancer.

In the event that a mole rat got infected with a virus that caused cancer in that manner, it would depend on what method the virus took to make the cell divide out of control. There might well be mole rat viruses which specifically inhibit p16. If one were to take a carcinogenic virus and make it infect mole rat cells, it seems p16 might prevent the viruses from causing cancer: From the actual PNAS article abstract: [google.com]

we show that a combination of activated Ras and SV40 LT fails to induce robust anchorage-independent growth in naked mole-rat cells, while it readily transforms mouse fibroblasts.

SV40 and I believe Ras (or maybe not) are viral proteins that cause cells to proliferate without limits ( ~ cancer), they don't have that effect in mole-rat cells.

Human cells are actually somewhat claustrophobic even without p16. Culture human fibroblasts (as the authors did) and the cells will happily reproduce, but only until they coat the media and are touching other cells on all sides. Normal human fibroblasts don't pile up on top of each other. They do when they have activated Ras or SV40 LT though. Mole rat cells don't. Also mole rat cells cultured tend to be more spread out than cultured human cells. The authors show some more important molecular details.

What would have been truly amazing would be if they had caused human cells to express p16 as mole rat cells do, and then demonstrated that human cells then are able to resist piling up in the presence of activated Ras or SV40 LT. I don't see it in the paper, so I'd suspect they tried doing that and it didn't work, and/or they had to do some more tinkering to get p16 to work in human cells and this will be even bigger news when they get it.

I am not a virologist or cancer biologist, so please, all you mean virologists and cancer biologists out there, go easy on me!

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892655)

... and I realize now you were asking about infection, not cancer, so uh...

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892773)

With cancers caused by viral infections, it seems that the proliferation of cell division that is cancer is a secondary effect. HTLV-1 provirus as an example causes cancer in only about 3% of infected individuals. It hijacks the normal functions of p300 and creb using its own TAX protein encoded in the virus' genome to massively upregulate the production of its own proteins. Cell cycle regulation is often disrupted as a result of this meddling by the virus.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (5, Insightful)

Scubaraf (1146565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892853)

Now you know how I feel when there's an article about API's, Ubuntu, or codecs.

Human cells have and express p16-INK4A normally - it's part of the CDKN2A gene locus. It is a cell cycle control gene whose main function is to put the brakes on replication. p16 is expressed in human cells and is often mutated or outright deleted in many human cancers of all cell types.
COSMIC [sanger.ac.uk] (new window)

The difference described in naked mole rats is that their cells induce p16 expression after minimal contact with neighboring cells while human and rat cells need more prodding to turn on cell cycle control genes.

This is a cool finding, but does not have a direct application in human cancers anytime soon. It's very hard to turn on a gene that has been mutated or deleted in cancer cells. You have to do it in practically every cell, otherwise, they grow back. Even then it may be too late. Loss of contact inhibition may be necessary in early oncogenesis, but restoration of p16 expression in a cancer cell that already has multiple genetic mutations, may not do much at that point. So, it's an interesting finding and I hope it leads to a better understanding of cancer and cancer prevention. But honestly, we have cool findings like this once a week. It just requires the right spin to sell it to the media - like calling something a "cancer-proof" gene - and it finds its way here.

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

Luyseyal (3154) | more than 4 years ago | (#29896573)

It's very hard to turn on a gene that has been mutated or deleted in cancer cells. You have to do it in practically every cell, otherwise, they grow back.

Right, which is why it'd have to be a built-in, like with the naked mole rats, rather than a plug-in. There are benefits to static linking!

-l

Re:Intriguing. What about virus resistance? (1)

growlingchaos (767426) | more than 4 years ago | (#29896497)

The plural form of virus is "viri" not virii.

How long (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892347)

before our resident EMH comes equipped with a p16 loaded hypospray?

So what. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892355)

I'm not worried. I always use poison or traps anyway. You see, its just to difficult to reliably give them cancer.

Re:So what. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892451)

Give them an Apple machine. If they do not get cancer, at least you'll get to take their liver.

Re:So what. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892631)

Well, if we can just convince Big Tobacco that there's an untapped mole-rat market...

Re:So what. (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892749)

Sprinkle Aspartame.

Re:So what. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892795)

They colonized my bathroom, so I sprinkled Comet all around the walls.

A couple weeks later... still have mice droppings, but not more Comet. These critters are plenty hungry and really tough!

Naked mole rats are badasses. (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892373)

Not only are they cold-blooded and eusocial, they are substantially immune [livescience.com] to certain types of pain. Plus, when their burrow is invaded by a snake, they will deliberately sacrifice peripheral members of the colony to protect the core.

We are just lucky that they eat only tubers, and look more or less like vienna sausages with legs, or they would be a shoe-in for title of "socialist supervermin public enemy number 1".

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892523)

They also have a natural instinct to fight evil and be funky. [youtube.com]

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892707)

all in favour of sacrificing fuzzyfuzzyfungus say aye

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892763)

Naked mole rats are badasses. Not only are they cold-blooded and eusocial, they are substantially immune to certain types of pain.

And this is a good thing? Pain isn't an unwanted side-effect that evolution hasn't eliminated; it's a very valuable survival trait [msn.com] .

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29894625)

In their case, it is a good thing. They're immune to feeling pain from acids, which is good because the air they breathe is 10% carbon dioxide and so are somewhat acidic themselves. Without that, they'd just be walking around in pain 24/7.

I imagine that if they (somehow) came in contact with an acid strong enough to actually damage them, different pain receptors would kick in by the time their flesh starts to melt.

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#29894943)

In their case, it is a good thing. They're immune to feeling pain from acids, which is good because the air they breathe is 10% carbon dioxide and so are somewhat acidic themselves. Without that, they'd just be walking around in pain 24/7.

And I'm immune to feeling pain from oxygen, at least in the concentrations I encounter it at. Some things are killed by oxygen, even at those concentrations. It's a good thing I don't feel pain from the levels I encounter, otherwise I'd be in pain all the time.

(sorry to put it that way, but it sounds like some arbitrary idea of what causes pain is being used, as if pain is inherent in that substance, rather than a subjective response to things that can harm the organism and that the organism can get away from if he senses them)

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (3, Interesting)

Xiph1980 (944189) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892843)

Plus, they can run as fast backwards as they can forwards, which just is awesome....

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892855)

Their ability to gnaw through concrete isn't bad, either.

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893117)

Plus, they can run as fast backwards as they can forwards, which just is awesome....

It's a bit less awe inspiring when you consider that turtles can do the same thing.

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893727)

Plus, they can run as fast backwards as they can forwards, which just is awesome....

Is this because they can run backward quickly, or can't run very fast forward? Car analogy: I can modify your car so that it can go as fast backwards as it can forwards, though you might not like the method employed.

Wrong. (2, Insightful)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893015)

Please don't spread your misinformation to others.

Mammals are by definition, warm blooded. These animals do have a difficult time controlling their body temp, but that does not make them cold blooded.

They also are not 'immune' to pain. Immunity is by definition resistance to infection from other organisms such as bacteria and viruses. Pain is not another organism, its a sensation the brain generates based on the signals sent by nerve endings throughout different parts of the body. They may not perceive certain types of pain, but that is not "immunity".

I'm guessing you failed high school biology?

They aren't a particularly impressive vermin, their inability to control their own temp puts severe constraints on where they can live and what they can do. The would, for instance, not survive in most of the united states for most of the year without remaining a fair distance underground, in which case they are of little threat to much of anything other than some plants with deep roots.

Your potatoes are still safe, since they would freeze to death in the winters where most potatoes are grown, and most people keep their homes below an acceptable temp for them to reside in doors.

Theres a reason they live in the desert.

Re:Wrong. (4, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893127)

technically naked mole rats are considered "operational poikilotherms." Their body temperature varies drastically depending on the temperature of their environment due to their very limited ability to control their own body temperature.

They may not perceive certain types of pain, but that is not "immunity".

I'm guessing you failed high school biology?

The definition of "immunity" in the English language is not restricted to an immunity to disease.

Re:Wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29894825)

Cut him some slack, he got "cold blooded" and "immune" from the news article he linked. If you have a problem with word usage, you may want to direct it towards the media...

Re:Naked mole rats are badasses. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29893601)

or they would be a shoe-in

The phrase is "shoo-in", not "shoe-in".

Not good enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892375)

You're not going to get a Nobel for something that only works on lawyers.

Now It All Makes Sense (2, Funny)

nz17 (601809) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892455)

Resistant, nay, impervious to cancer? So that's the sitch she was always talking about! [wikipedia.org]

Re:Now It All Makes Sense (1)

BorisAmmerlaan (698136) | more than 4 years ago | (#29894511)

Naked mole rats... Pets of the future!

Obligatory (0, Redundant)

Naurgrim (516378) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892463)

I for one say welcome to our cancer immune naked mole rat overlords.

"Cancer-proof" is a bit of a misnomer (4, Interesting)

toppavak (943659) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892479)

All organisms have these kinds of tumor suppressor genes whether they act to inhibit cell proliferation or promote cell death, in fact most cancers have to have mutations that inhibit these suppressor genes as well as mutations which enhance genes that promote cell growth and proliferation. What would be more interesting than simply identifying the suppressor gene(s) believed to be the cause of the absence of naked mole rat cancers would be in identifying the mechanisms that have protected that(those) gene(s). I wonder if the researchers in question also considered alternate explanations for the absence of cancers in naked mole rats- its very possible that their subterranean environment simply doesn't contain as many mutagens as we are exposed to and as such having a naked mole rat with a mutated (inhibited) tumor suppressor AND a mutated (enhanced) tumor promoter is such a rarity that we simply haven't been able to find one.

Re:"Cancer-proof" is a bit of a misnomer (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892587)

The next step would be to then splice this gene into mice and activate it and see if the gene alone is enough to make it cancer resistant. That step will conclusively establish if something else is responsible (or an additional something) or if the gene alone is enough.

Re:"Cancer-proof" is a bit of a misnomer (3, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892711)

If we were really patient, we could knock out p16 in these moles and see if they get cancer. That would pretty well establish whether or not it was just p16 that was responsible for the relative resistance to cancer. On the topic of mice, there is a line of mice that is quite resistant to cancer [slashdot.org] as it is. As of yet, it is unknown what factors are responsible for this immunity. Other mice have been genetically modified to be highly resistant to cancer [sciencedaily.com] using other tumor suppressor genes. The article is from sciencedaily so take it with a grain of salt.

Re:"Cancer-proof" is a bit of a misnomer (2, Insightful)

shaitand (626655) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892815)

"If we were really patient, we could knock out p16 in these moles and see if they get cancer. That would pretty well establish whether or not it was just p16 that was responsible for the relative resistance to cancer."

It would establish if p16 is is an essential part of their cancer resistance but if p16 is working in combination with something else your experiment wouldn't reveal it.

Re:"Cancer-proof" is a bit of a misnomer (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892885)

Quite. That is why we should also do additional work characterizing interactions between p16 and other proteins. A technique involving inserting a synthetic light sensitive amino acid into the polypeptide chain making up p16 could photo-cross-link with nearby proteins when the protein interacts with them. It's used to identify close interactions between proteins by fixing them in those states.

Environmental pressure (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 4 years ago | (#29895337)

If you're constantly exposed to cancerous substances by sadistic humans in white lab coats, your decendants would obviously develop a resistance to cancer!

Re:"Cancer-proof" is a bit of a misnomer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892871)

I wonder if the researchers in question also considered alternate explanations for the absence of cancers in naked mole rats- its very possible that their subterranean environment simply doesn't contain as many mutagens as we are exposed to and as such having a naked mole rat with a mutated (inhibited) tumor suppressor AND a mutated (enhanced) tumor promoter is such a rarity that we simply haven't been able to find one.

It sounded like the researchers exposed the naked mole rat cells to the same mutagens as the mouse cells, so I don't think reduced radiation exposure could explain the differences. You're correct that "cancer-proof is a misnomer". The differences suggest that something lowers the probability that these cells become cancerous after exposure -- not that they are perfectly immune to the characteristic cell growth associated with cancer.

As someone pointed out, there are two interesting follow-up questions: what mechanism(s) protect the gene coding for this protein? How does the protein accomplish this feat?

Based on the picture (2, Interesting)

Korbeau (913903) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892485)

I'll be happier dying at age 50 of cancer than looking like a naked mole rat!

Re:Based on the picture (2, Funny)

pinkushun (1467193) | more than 4 years ago | (#29895209)

You post on /. AND you don't want to resemble Yoda when you grow up? I call posting under false pretense! ;)

Naked Mole Rats (5, Informative)

kryptKnight (698857) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892499)

For those of you who aren't familiar with them, naked mole rats are pretty weird in a bunch of other ways

They lack the neurotransmitter that lets them feel pain, which is evolutionarily unique as far as I know. Their respiratory systems are adapted to handle the high concentrations of CO2 that build up in their burrows. Their metabolic rate is 2/3 of other similarly sized rodents, and they can slow it even further in times of need.

Their behavior is even weirder. The colonies (200-300 in population) are organized eusocialy, ie in the same manner as a bee or ant colony. There in one queen, with a harem of 3-4 males that produce all the offspring for the entire colony. Like ants, naked mole rats form separate castes for diggers, soldiers, etc. Oh, and to top it all off their front teeth are on the outside of their mouths to help them dig.

Re Naked Mole Rats and other rodents (1)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893093)

Cool.

However, according to the article, they found the same anticancer mechanism in other small, long-lived rodents like common gray squirrels, so this is probably not related to any of those other abilities.

Unique rats (1)

igny (716218) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893161)

No wonder considering they may be relatives to the pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings.

Re:Naked Mole Rats (1)

MistrX (1566617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29894259)

I, for one, welcome our future naked overlords.

(Then gets attacked by naked mole rat) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892505)

Rodents of Unusual Resistances? I don't think they exist.

Re:(Then gets attacked by naked mole rat) (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893029)

Rodents of Unusual Resistances? I don't think they exist.

Oh please, stop it. My keyboard is full of Coke Zero now and my sinuses hurt.

implications for SENS? (1)

Emesee (1155401) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892511)

oh yah? i saw that early today or yesturday. but don't hate on me for that plz nice though... interesting... i wonder how this relates to SENS?????

Re:implications for SENS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892841)

oh yah? i saw that early today or yesturday. but don't hate on me for that plz

nice though... interesting...

i wonder how this relates to SENS?????

Just use SENS9X or ZSENS, they've been around forever.

It's only fair (1)

unitron (5733) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892545)

They already look the way that they do *and* they're called naked mole rats.

On top of that they should get cancer?

mole rats are people too... even if they're naked (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892637)

OK... so they're naked already. How do I get me a date with one of these rats? Do I need duct tape?

  I want the fruits of my loins to be cancer free.

Just doing my bit for humanity

Finally rats can smoke! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29892907)

The tobacco companies just gained tens billions of potential customers.

p16 is not new (3, Interesting)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29892915)

I am an undergraduate at UC Berkeley and am currently taking a class on cancer, especially the genetic basis for its development. One of the professors is Steve Martin, a famous cancer researcher. Even if I wasn't in this class, I would know that p16 is a well-known gene. They definitely did not discover it in this study. This article is very misleading. Humans definitely have p16 [wikipedia.org] , is it vital to the normal cell cycle. It is also frequently mutated in melanomas, one of the most vicious cancers. It is most likely that this group has found that naked mole rat cells use p16 in a unique way as it relates to certain types of cancer transformation pathways. Bear in mind that this sounds like this was a completely in vitro study, and so there is no proof this this gene behaves this way in wild mole rats.

All that being said, this could still turn out to be a big discovery. If they can identify the molecular mechanism behind the improved cancer suppression, it could lead to novel treatments.

Re:p16 is not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29893233)

One of the professors is Steve Martin, a famous cancer researcher.

Did Prof. Martin "get small" to make this discovery? He has already admitted that he often wears men's underwear under his street clothes.

Re:p16 is not new (1)

TheClockworkSoul (1635769) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893569)

While it's certainly true that p16 is not only known, but a major focus of cancer research, this paper isn't announcing its discovery, it's describing an impressive property of naked mole rat cellular biology (namely, its resistance to cancerous transformation), which they traced to the naked mole rat's version of the p16 protein (which is homologous to human p16).

Like a previous poster said, I would be more convinced had the researchers transfected a human cell with the mole rat p16 and showed it to be resistant to cancerous transformation, but that being said, this is likely to be a pretty big discovery. Considering the central role that p16 plays in oncogenesis, this can potentially lead to new insights about that process.

Re:p16 is not new (1)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29893675)

I'm sure the paper is fine if it's in PNAS, I haven't had the chance to read it myself. But if you read the press release, it makes it seem as if this represents the discovery of p16. In fact, they make it seem as if p16 is unique to mole rats. I'd agree with you that a transformation of a more accepted cell line like NIH 3T3 or some human line would be more convincing. I imagine they are working on it.

Re:p16 is not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29894063)

"One of the professors is Steve Martin, a famous cancer researcher."

So that's what he did after three amigos.

Re:p16 is not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29895143)

Hey, no one said that he was famous for his cancer research... in fact he still occasionally mixes up cancer and capricorn.

Re:p16 is not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29895039)

p16 is a well-known gene. They definitely did not discover it in this study. This article is very misleading. Humans definitely have p16 [wikipedia.org] ,

The article isn't misleading at all. The press release simply says that they think that the way p16 is expressed makes the mole rates cancer-resistant, and doesn't say that it isn't present in humans. Skimming through the full paper the authors make it clear that they didn't identify any of the proteins themselves but they think they have evidence that the proteins are used differently by humans and mole rats, and that they think this is why the rats are cancer resistant.

You're rights about the caveats in the paper, but they didn't say some of the things you're implying.

"Naked" mole rat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29893323)

So, the secret to cancer prevention is to get naked?

Excuse me, I have a new pickup line I need to try out...

Captcha: Polite

Missing the point: (4, Informative)

Hartree (191324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29894573)

I think there's some misunderstanding of what the PNAS article says.

P16 is a known tumor supressor gene. It's also in humans. Think of it (and P27, another tumor supressor gene, as well) as sprinkler systems that get set off in response to the fire of excess cell proliferation.

What they found was that in the mole rats, the cells were much more sensitive to crowding than human cells were. Apparently, there is a second crowding detecting system in the mole rats that is more sensitive. They also have the less sensitive crowding detecting system that humans have.

Further, they found that this early crowding signal "set off" (caused expression of)the P16 supressor. The less sensitive crowding detection system that both humans and mole rats have instead "sets off" the P27 tumor supressor gene.

Just having the P16 gene isn't the whole story, humans have it too. It's the entire chain of signals that "sounds the alarm" from mild crowding of the cell and proceeds to the expression of P16. Knowing that it's P16 that gets expressed gives a starting point to figure out the rest of the system.

Re:Missing the point: (1)

vbraga (228124) | more than 4 years ago | (#29895069)

PNAS article here [pnas.org] , if someone wants to check it out by themselves.

Move over Shark Cartalage (2, Funny)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#29896345)

Now that this has made the news I expect that 'Mole Rat Extract' will soon be apearing in spam as the next curall for cancer. Of coruse 'Big Pharma' will be keeping it secret but you can buy it from our site for only $699.00 per dose.

inducing tumors... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29896551)

Waitaminute-- I know this shouldn't be a revelation, but they can easily and reliably induce tumors? I know that this is just a function of killing cells off repeatedly in an area, or applying some radiation therapy, but does this scare anyone else? I know we should be focusing on the notion of a cure here, but I can't help but be alarmed that it is de rigueur to be able to induce tumors at a whim, for experimental purposes or not.

while this discovery is fascinating (1)

nimbius (983462) | more than 4 years ago | (#29896693)

i cant help but think its marred by the overtone that most americans could engage in some very simple lifestyle changes to avoid cancer.

quit eating so much red meat, cut back on a diet of food enriched with various synthetic hormones, and eat more fruits and veggies. 2-4 cups of green or white tea a day would be an excellent start as well. Go for a run. But no, any suggestion to the contrary of a full rack of babybacks and a milkshake followed up with a slice of cheesecake and a cigarette afterwards is touted as "taking away my freedom!"

Hmmm... (1)

rayharris (1571543) | more than 4 years ago | (#29897293)

Still no cure for... oh, wait.

Surviving Nuclear Fallout... (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29897807)

So that's why they were able to survive the bombs dropped by those red commie bastards and are still able to chew right through my power armor....

How did they get so big though?
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