Despite their ugly looks, naked mole rats could prove to be very useful to mankind as they provide clues for understanding the mechanisms of heart attacks, a study published by researchers from the University of Illinois in the April issue of Science Magazine said.
The study, which was conducted by Prof. Thomas Park of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Prof. Gary Lewin from the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association, discovered that naked mole rats can survive in an environment without oxygen by reducing their heartbeat from 200 to 50. However, they do lose consciousness, the scientists say, but regain normal bodily functions even after 18 minutes of oxygen deprivation.
The strategies used by the naked mole rat in order to survive in an oxygen-free environment can offer scientists an understanding about how to deal with strokes and heart attacks. The naked mole rat's unique ability lies in the process of how it metabolizes fructose, which unlike other vertebrates, it processes it anaerobically.
"The naked mole-rat has simply rearranged some basic building blocks of metabolism to make it super-tolerant to low-oxygen conditions," Park said.
During strokes or heart attacks, the brain is deprived of oxygen, which causes brain cells to die in a very short amount of time. If doctors could find a way to make patients switch to the fructose pathway, the time span critical for such patients could be significantly extended, Parks said according to the Science Magazine.
Other peculiarities of the species are that naked mole rats do not age, are generally very resilient, feel little pain and almost never get cancer.
The naked mole rat or Heterocephalus glaber is usually found in parts of East Africa and lives underground, forming huge colonies with a rather complex social system. Scientists think that the species' medicinal peculiarities stem from its adaptation to under-ventilated, oxygen-poor tunnels.