Naked mole rats are kind of the dark horse of the rodent family. They're pink and wrinkly (read: much less cute than their rodent cousins, if that's possible) and they have what can only be described as fangs — basically the stuff of nightmares.
If you can get past their disagreeable appearance, though, these underground dwellers are one of the most interesting members of the animal community. They can live for more than 30 years; that's way longer than any other rodent. They don't have pain receptors, they can't regulate their body temperature, they eat next to nothing, and they can't see well. Oh, and high levels of carbon dioxide in their cramped subterranean colonies makes the air very acidic. Yet somehow they thrive.
But the most fascinating thing about naked mole rats is that they don't get cancer. Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov from the University of Rochester may have found a reason why these little guys and gals are immune to the disease: cell goo.
There's this stuff that's present in all animals called hyaluronan. It holds cells together and regulates their growth, but naked mole rats have much thicker hyaluronan than other species. The presence of extra gooey hyaluronan could slow the growth of cells, whereas cancer attacks the body via unregulated cell division. When the researchers reduced the amount of cell goo in certain naked mole rats, cancerous cells developed. It sounds like they're on to something here, that could potentially (and eventually) lead to new cancer therapies for humans.