Mole-rat re­search could help solve hu­man heart prob­lems

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

MI­AMI, Florida — When de­prived of oxy­gen, naked mole-rats have a unique abil­ity to con­vert sugar to en­ergy, a skill that might one day help treat victims of heart at­tack and stroke, re­searchers said on Thurs­day.

The cold-blooded mam­mals have long been a source of fas­ci­na­tion for sci­en­tists be­cause they can live 30 years, rarely get can­cer and do not seem to feel most kinds of pain.

Re­searchers re­ported in the jour­nal Science that when naked mole-rats are ex­posed to oxy­gen lev­els low enough to kill a per­son in min­utes, they can sur­vive for at least five hours.

They do so by act­ing like plants, con­vert­ing fruc­tose to en­ergy to keep their brain liv- ing cells that have been sus­pended.

In the ab­sence of oxy­gen, large amounts of fruc­tose flowed into their blood­streams, and were car­ried to brain cells.

“The naked mole-rat has sim­ply re­ar­ranged some ba­sic build­ing blocks of me­tab­o­lism to make it su­per­tol­er­ant to low-oxy­gen con­di­tions,” said lead au­thor Thomas Park, pro­fes­sor of bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago.

The ro­dents go into a state of sus­pended an­i­ma­tion, mov­ing very lit­tle and low­er­ing their pulse and breath­ing rate. They use fruc­tose to sur­vive un­til oxy­gen is avail­able again.

“The naked mole-rat is the only known mam­mal to use sus­pended an­i­ma­tion to sur­vive oxy­gen de­pri­va­tion,” said the study.

There is a rea­son naked mole-rats have this un­usual me­tab­o­lism — it could be an adap­ta­tion to liv­ing in crowded bur­rows where oxy­gen is hard to find.

“The air can get very stuffy hours in th­ese un­der­ground bur­rows,” said pro­fes­sor Gary Lewin, a co-au­thor and re­searcher at the Max Del­bruck Cen­ter for Molec­u­lar Medicine in the Helmholtz As­so­ci­a­tion.

Their heart rate drops from 200 beats per minute to about 50.

Once oxy­gen be­comes avail­able again, they take a whiff and start stir­ring again, as if noth­ing ever hap­pened, the re­port said.

If sci­en­tists could har­ness this process and ap­ply it hu­mans, it could aid the sur­vival of peo­ple who are de­prived of oxy­gen dur­ing car­diac crises like heart at­tacks or strokes.

“Our work is the first ev­i­dence that a mam­mal switches to fruc­tose as a fuel,” said Lewin. “The­o­ret­i­cally, very few changes might be needed to adopt this un­usual me­tab­o­lism.”

But it re­mains to be seen if hu­man cells could be coaxed into be­hav­ing this way.

“Pa­tients who suf­fer an in­farc­tion or stroke ex­pe­ri­ence ir­repara­ble dam­age af­ter just a few min­utes of oxy­gen de­pri­va­tion,” he noted.

The time naked mole-rats can sur­vive while ex­posed to low oxy­gen lev­els The naked mol­erat has sim­ply re­ar­ranged some ba­sic build­ing blocks of me­tab­o­lism to make it su­per-tol­er­ant to low-oxy­gen con­di­tions.” Thomas Park, pro­fes­sor of bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago

THOMAS PARK / REUTERS

Four naked mole-rats are seen in a lab­o­ra­tory at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago in an un­dated photo re­leased on Thus­day.

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