The naked mole rat is quite possibly one of the hands-down ugliest animals on the planet. It's also Science magazine's Animal of the Year for 2013. This wasn't a beauty contest; the naked mole rat won because it's somehow got a tremendous resistance to cancer, and in 2013, two separate studies were able to explain why. It has something to do with a substance that the mole rat produces called hyaluronan that keeps that ugly pink skin nice and stretchy: when researchers prevented the animal from producing hyaluronan, it lost its resistance to tumors. Also, mole rats are better at making proteins without errors, which further adds to their cancer resistance.
Getting all of this naked mole rat goodness into humans to help prevent cancer isn't going to be as straightforward as we would probably all like it to be, but what's important is that the mole rats have given us a place to start and a direction to go in that might lead to something valuable a little bit farther down the road.
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