Rodents hold the key to human immortality

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

mole rat
Naked mole rats spend their lives in some of the most oxygen-deprived environments ever. If other mammals were to do the same, they would suffer from brain damage.

Rodents may not seem like superheroes, but furry creatures like mice and naked mole rats hold the secret to saving human lives all across the world. No, they didn’t fall into a vat of nuclear waste, or get bitten by a radioactive spider for their special powers. According to researchers, a special protein in mouse blood can reverse brain and muscle aging, while naked mole rat cells have a special molecule that makes them cancer-proof!

If scientists can find a way to unlock the same incredible feats in humans, it’d greatly increase our survival rates. See, the blood of mice – and humans for that matter – contains a special protein known as growth differentiation factor (GDF11). While young mice have very high levels of the protein flowing throughout their bodies, older ones have much less. So, researchers experimented with exposing older rodents to high amounts of GDF11 by sharing a young mouse’s blood with them.

As a result, the old-timers were able to last longer on a treadmill and heal quicker after an injury! A separate study also found that increasing the levels of GDF11 in mice causes an increase in blood cell and brain cell production. Previous experiments have also reversed muscle thickening of the heart, which is a condition that makes it difficult for blood to leave its chambers and get pumped throughout the body. Despite the success of these three experiments, researchers aren’t exactly sure how it all works, but if they can figure out the correct process then they may save millions of human lives.

Still not impressed with these furry rodents? Well, naked mole rats live up to 10 times longer than traditional rats and mice! Current research shows that special proteins in their blood keep their brains as sharp as a tack up until it’s time for them to die. They also contain a special type of molecule that basically makes them cancer-proof. Researchers are working on a way to get these cool features into the human body, and if they do, a 300-year-old person may one day become completely normal.

Featured image courtesy of BRAYDAWG on Flickr. Image of mole rat courtesy of  Javier Ábalos Álvarez on Flickr.