I have seriously been told I resemble a naked mole rat when I’m roused from sweet, sweet slumber. My eyes refuse to open, and I burrow under the sheets. I’m pretty pale and mostly hairless, too.
While I hope I don’t resemble a naked mole rat in all ways (a bit on the uncomely side) I think there’s reason to hope my cells act like their’s.
Naked mole rats never get cancer.
It appears they don’t get cancer because their cells experience “contact inhibition.”
Humans get cancer quite a bit, and the odds increase as we age. The chances of a cell switching to cancerous increase, simply because we’ve given them more chances to do so. Lab mice get cancer about 70% of the time, if allowed to live for several years.
Human and mouse cells experience this contact inhibition phenomenon as well. Cells divide and fill up the space they’re in. Once they touch, they generally slow down their division; there are enough cells.
Cancer cells don’t have this contact inhibition, and grow wildly, unchecked.
Naked mole rat cells, when studied in the lab, exhibit a super kind of contact inhibition – cell division completely stops when cells touch.
In the future, perhaps we can identify what causes this, and turn on a switch in our own bodies if we suspect we have cancer.