University of Rochester biologists Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov have won a 2009 Cozzarelli Prize for their pioneering research on the causes of cancer resistance in naked mole-rats.

Their paper, "Hypersensitivity to contact inhibition provides a clue to cancer resistance of naked mole-rats," was one of six papers published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2009 to be given the Cozzarelli Prize. The award recognizes papers of "outstanding scientific excellence and originality."

Naked mole-rats, extremely odd-looking rodents that dwell in underground caverns, have exceptionally long life spans (up to 30 years). Cancerous tumors have never been found in a naked mole-rat. Gorbunova's and Seluanov's research demonstrated that this is because mole-rats' cells have an unusual regulation of a gene called p16 that makes the cells "claustrophobic," stopping the cells' proliferation when too many of them crowd together, cutting off runaway growth before it can start.

The scientists hope that this research can eventually be extended to be used in treatments for cancer in humans.

Gorbunova and Seluanov will receive the prize at the PNAS Editorial Board Meeting on April 25 in National Harbor, Maryland.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Ellison Medical Foundation.