Health Watch

Critters key to aging and cancer?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Getting old and getting cancer. Two things a lot of people worry about and a lot of scientists are trying to fight.

Now, some unique critters could be the key to preventing both.

Are you worried about getting old? How about cancer? What if you were agile enough to do things well into your nineties and your body was cancer resistant? The secrets to those possibilities could be inside naked mole rats.

In the basement lab of the UT Health Science Center is about 2,500 of them. Doctor Rochelle Buffenstein is studying the critters. Based on their size, they should only live about six years, but they live to 35 and are highly active until they're 25.

"Which would be equivalent to a human at the age of about 90 maintaining good health and good function," Dr. Rochelle Buffenstein, a professor at UT Health Science Center, told Action News.

Based on our size, Buffenstein says we should only live to 40.

"Humans and naked mole rats live between four and five times as long as they should," Dr. Buffenstein said.

Unlike the rodents, we get cancer.

"We've never seen a single tumor in our colony," Dr. Buffenstein said.

While most mice die from tumors, researchers painted the mole rats' skin with carcinogens and no tumors developed. They even took out their cells and manipulated them to get cancer. Buffenstein says we share 178 unique gene families with mole rats. The key is to find the pathways that make the rats age better and stay cancer-free, then find a way to modify human genes to do the same. The doctor says her goal isn't to help humans live hundreds of years but a healthy life for at least 95 years rather than 60.

Doctor Buffenstein believes she's getting close to finding the pathways that could help her figure out why the mole rats age so well and don't develop cancer, but, translating the findings to help humans could take a lot longer.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Will Sansom
Executive Director of Media Communications
The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio
(210) 567-2579
sansom@uthscsa.edu

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