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"Naked Truths" -- The Discovery Files


The Discovery Files
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A University of Illinois at Chicago biologist and his colleagues think the subterranean lifestyle of the naked mole-rat may hold clues to keeping brain cells alive and functioning when oxygen is scarce. The key may lie in how brain cells regulate their intake of calcium.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Naked (Sound effect: pull back shower curtain; cartoon naked mole-rat screams) Truths.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: naked mole-rat sounds) You could learn a lot from a naked mole-rat. At least that's what scientists believe at the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio.

(Sound effect: naked mole-rat sounds) When you live underground in close quarters with hundreds of your fellow naked mole-rats, air is scarce. Yet these blind, hairless rodents can tolerate long periods of oxygen deprivation, much as infant humans can. The team surmised the mechanism in human babies may be the same in mole-rats and discovered that indeed it is.

Brain cells need oxygen to control their intake of calcium. Too much calcium in the cells is lethal.

(Sound effect: baby cries) A human infant is tolerant of O2 deprivation because of calcium channels in the brain cells. If oxygen is scarce, the channels close protecting the cells from calcium overdose. As we age, we lose this ability, while adult naked mole-rats hold onto it. If we could find a way to make these channels functional in adult humans, it could help prevent damage in the event of a heart attack or stroke.

The mole-rats' ability to suppress pain and even cancer might teach us a thing or two as well. Who knows? The naked mole-rat may even show us someday how to be comfortable in our own skin.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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