The ABCs Of Why Bats Rarely Get Cancer

The low incidence of cancer in bats can be attributed to high ABCB1 gene expression, according to research by scientists in Singapore.

AsianScientist (Jul. 24, 2019) – Researchers in Singapore have identified a mechanism by which bats avoid developing cancers. Their findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Cancer is a leading cause of death in aging populations. Despite decades of research, cancer treatments are still relatively inefficient and have unacceptable side effects that continue to prompt an urgent need for new approaches to disease prevention and treatment.

Over the years, researchers have noticed that bats have an unusually low incidence of cancer compared to other mammals. Hence, scientists led by Associate Professor Koji Itahana at the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School (Duke-NUS) studied the cells of bats in an attempt to uncover the molecular underpinnings of reduced cancer susceptibility in the flying mammals.

The team found that a gene called ABCB1, an important protein that pumps many foreign substances out of cells, is present in significantly larger amounts in various types of cells derived from bats compared to cells derived from humans. This was observed across multiple species of bats.

“Our team investigated the unique anticancer mechanisms in bats and found that exposure to toxic drugs caused significantly less DNA damage in bat cells than human cells due to the presence of the important ABCB1 protein,” said Itahana.

When the researchers blocked ABCB1 activity in bat cells, they observed the accumulation of toxic chemicals, which led to DNA damage and cell death.

“Our findings reveal that the transportation of toxic drugs out of the system protects bat cells from DNA damage, which may contribute to their low cancer incidence. This discovery can provide important insights into cancer biology that can be translated into future therapies for humans,” added Professor Wang Linfa, co-corresponding author of the study and director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Program at Duke-NUS.

The article can be found at: Koh et al. (2019) ABCB1 Protects Bat Cells From DNA Damage Induced by Genotoxic Compounds.


Source: Duke-National University of Singapore; Photo: Pexels.
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