Ugly though they may be, the naked mole rat might be the animal kingdom's greatest superhero. And their most recently discovered superpower — the ability to survive lengthy periods of oxygen deprivation — could help save human brains.
An upcoming paper in NeuroReport details the latest research on the remarkable abilities of naked mole rats. Mole rats, who live in underground tunnels where oxygen is low, are uniquely capable of surviving for lengthy periods without oxygen — and avoid suffering brain damage. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that naked mole rats can endure more than half an hour of extreme oxygen deprivation without damage to their brain cells. At the outset, their neurons maintain function six times longer than mouse neurons do in similar circumstances. The hope is that learning more about the mechanism that preserves mole rat brains could someday prevent brain damage in victims of stroke, heart attack, drowning, and other incidences of oxygen deprivation.
This isn't the first remarkable ability the mole rats have shown. The creatures live longer than any other rodent, are apparently impervious to pain, and, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, are completely immune to cancer.