Newswise — Blind mole rats may help humans fight diseases resulting from lack of oxygen, revealed researchers at the Institute of Evolution at the University of Haifa. "Blind mole rats live most of their lives in underground tunnels and therefore have developed special adaptation mechanisms for dealing with lack of oxygen.
This mechanism enables the blind mole rats not only to survive, but to engage in active lives in conditions with very little oxygen," explained Prof. Eviatar Nevo, director of the Institute of Evolution. Prof. Nevo further explained that lack of oxygen supply to tissues (hypoxia) is the cause of many ailments such as heart attacks, strokes, cancer, pulmonary hypertension, kidney diseases, complications from diabetes such as ulcers and blindness, toxemia and altitude sickness. According to Prof. Nevo, identifying the genes responsible for protecting cells from damage due to lack of oxygen will be the basis for developing new drugs to treat such ailments.
Prof. Nevo explained that a blind mole rat can live at least 14 hours in conditions of 3% oxygen, whereas there is 21% oxygen in the air that we breathe. "Heart attacks, strokes and cancer combined cause two-thirds of deaths in the Western world and therefore there is great significance in finding new medical treatments to address them.
From the research conducted on blind mole rats at the institute, unique characteristics such as heart and lung structure and function were discovered, as well as oxygen-connecting proteins in blood and tissues, red blood cell production, new blood vessel growth and halting cell death. In blind mole rat genomes there are many genes that can be used in medicine. Understanding the molecular system of blind mole rats can bring about breakthroughs in developing new treatments for treating diseases caused by lack of oxygen," stressed Prof. Nevo.