Mechanisms of cancer resistance in long-lived mammals

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Cancer researchers have traditionally used the mouse and the rat as staple model organisms. These animals are very short-lived, reproduce rapidly and are highly prone to cancer. They have been very useful for modelling some human cancer types and testing experimental treatments; however, these cancer-prone species offer little for understanding the mechanisms of cancer resistance. Recent technological advances have expanded bestiary research to non-standard model organisms that possess unique traits of very high value to humans, such as cancer resistance and longevity. In recent years, several discoveries have been made in non-standard mammalian species, providing new insights on the natural mechanisms of cancer resistance. These include mechanisms of cancer resistance in the naked mole rat, blind mole rat and elephant. In each of these species, evolution took a different path, leading to novel mechanisms. Many other long-lived mammalian species display cancer resistance, including whales, grey squirrels, microbats, cows and horses. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of cancer resistance in all these species is important and timely, as, ultimately, these mechanisms could be harnessed for the development of human cancer therapies.

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The authors thank E. Teeling for recommending the literature on cancer in wild bats. The work in the authors’ laboratories is supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health and the Life Extension Foundation.

Author information


  1. University of Rochester, Department of Biology, Rochester, NY, USA

    • Andrei Seluanov
    •  & Vera Gorbunova
  2. Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

    • Vadim N. Gladyshev
  3. Department of Genetics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA

    • Jan Vijg


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A.S. and V.G. wrote the article and prepared the figures. V.N.G. wrote the section on cancer resistance in bats, and J.V. wrote the section on mutation rates. All authors contributed equally to the review and editing of the article before submission.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vera Gorbunova.