Washington: Scientists have discovered that cancerous cells in blind mole rats secrete a suicidal protein which causes them to rapidly die, a finding that may lead to new cancer therapies for humans reports PTI.

Researchers at theUniversityofRochesterisolated cells from blind mole rats and forced them to proliferate in culture beyond what occurs in the animal. After dividing approximately 15-20 times, all of the cells in the culture dish died rapidly.

Researchers determined that the rapid death occurred because the cells recognised their pre-cancerous state and began secreting a suicidal protein, called interferon beta.

The precancerous cells died by a mechanism, which kills both abnormal cells and their neighbours, resulting in a “clean sweep”.

“Not only were the cancerous cells killed off, but so were the adjacent cells, which may also be prone to tumorous behaviour,” said researcher Andrei Seluanov.

“While people don’t use the same cancer-killing mechanism as blind mole rats, we may be able to combat some cancers and prolong life, if we could stimulate the same clean sweep reaction in cancerous human cells,” said researcher Vera Gorbunova.

The mechanism that blind mole rats use to fight off cancer differs from what researchers discovered three years ago in another long-lived and cancer-resistant mole rat species, the naked mole rat.

Blind mole rats and naked mole rats – both subterranean rodents with long life spans – are the only mammals never known to develop cancer.

Three years ago, the same team of researchers had determined the anti-cancer mechanism in the naked mole rat.

Their research found that a specific gene – p16 – makes the cancerous cells in naked mole rats hypersensitive to overcrowding, and stops them from proliferating when too many crowd together.

“We expected blind mole rats to have a similar mechanism for stopping the spread of cancerous cells. Instead, we discovered they’ve evolved their own mechanism,” Seluanov said in a statement.

Researchers say they next want to find out exactly what triggers the secretion of interferon beta after cancerous cells begin proliferating in blind mole rats. Gorbunova believes the anti-cancer mechanism is an adaptation to subterranean life.

“Blind mole rats spend their lives in underground burrows protected from predators. Living in this environment, they could perhaps afford to evolve a long lifespan, which includes developing efficient anti-cancer defenses,” said Gorbunova.

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