The New Lab Rat of Choice? Naked Mole Rats
Buffenstein says that until the 1990s, she and only one other group were studying the hairless rodents; she predicts that the naked mole rat will be a fixture in laboratories by 2020.
“It takes time for people to realize that an animal has got a lot going for it,” she told the AP.
The naked mole rat certainly does have a lot going for it. Regular lab mice live an average of two years but naked mole rats can live up to 30 years. In addition, the naked mole rat doesn’t get cancer, doesn’t feel pain and can withstand oxygen depravation for more than a half-hour. As a result, these tiny, almost hairless, nearly blind rodents are proving invaluable for research on longevity, pain, cancer and stroke.
According to Park, this finding added to previous knowledge on Substance P, and may provide insight into inflammatory pain. “We’re learning which nerve fibers are important for which kinds of pain, so we’ll be able to develop new strategies and targets,” Park told LiveScience.
“We believe that the extreme resistance to oxygen deprivation is a result of evolutionary adaptations for surviving in a chronically low-oxygen environment,” Park told ScienceDaily. “The trick,” he explained, will be to learn how to “use this information to help people who experience temporary loss of oxygen to the brain in situations like heart attacks, stroke or drowning.”
“Cancer cells tend to find ways around p27, but mole rats have a double barrier that a cell must overcome before it can grow uncontrollably,” the press release reported. The researchers are planning to examine the naked mole rat’s genetics more closely to see if their cancer-fighting abilities can be used in humans.
Sherman and Jarvis believe the naked mole rats live longer in nature due to their habitat: In subterranean burrows, they are safer than their counterparts that live at the surface. “[G]reater fecundity with advancing age” is also a factor. Large breeding female mole rats continue to give birth to mole rat pups into old age. If old mole rats continue to make “reproductive contributions,” Cornell News reports, “there will be strong selection to postpone senescence.”
But the mole rat model may not be a perfect fit for theories that apply to humans. Due to the fact that aging occurs to every component of an organism, there isn’t a single gene responsible for aging.