Naked Mole Rats Were Thought to Be Impervious to Cancer, Until They Got It This Month

Illustration for article titled Naked Mole Rats Were Thought to Be Impervious to Cancer, Until They Got It This Month

But before we get to the science, let’s say what we’re all thinking—that rodent looks like a penis with feet.

Great, now that that’s out of the way, here’s some cool stuff about the magical Naked Mole Rat that I had never even heard of before writing this post. For example, researchers have never reported a case of cancer in one of these skittering phalluses, in zoos or in the wild. They’ve even straight up injected their cells with the same viruses that triggers tumors in mice, and nothing happened. Whatever else is up with them, their bodies are like, “Cancer schmancer.”

Until! Early in February, veterinarians from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago discovered two mole rats with cancerous masses, that they then sent samples of to researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Pathologist Martha Delaney wrote to the New York Times that this is actually a great opportunity, rather than a sign that the end is nigh:

Now that we have two naked mole rats with cancer... we can study the colonies from which they came to elucidate why they are cancer prone, compared to other zoo and research colonies.


Environmental factors and aging are a big part of cancer research, so it’s all a pretty exciting stuff. Except, bad news first—one of the cancer stricken naked mole rats has passed. Good news second—the other naked mole rat was pronounced cancer free at age 22! Please knit him a little sweater, or something.

Image via AP.

Contact the author at

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ : Bear Privilege is a Liberal Hoax

NMRs are really interesting from a cancer research perspective. One of the reasons why cancer occurs is a failure of the mechanism of apoptosis, but NMRs actually trigger cell death by a primarily necrotic mechanism, which is pretty unique among mammals. They also have a few unique mutations in a gene related to the production of hyaluronan, the abundance of which seems to inhibit oncogenic transformation.

The fact that these 2 NMRs got cancer is actually pretty fantastic (well not for them), because one of the best ways to figure out something’s biological function is to break it.