How Naked Mole Rats Might Hold the Key to Anti-Aging and Longevity

Anti-Aging Medicine
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Anti-Aging Medicine
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  • Naked mole rats live much longer than other rodents thanks to a special anti-aging process.
  • The mole rats can remove stagnant cells that would otherwise linger and cause health problems.
  • Scientists are a step closer to understanding how, which may help develop better drugs for humans.

An unlikely critter may be a clue to finding the fountain of youth, new research suggests.

Naked mole rats are the longest-living rodents on the planet. Most mice, rats, and hamsters don’t live beyond five years old.

Despite their wrinkly exterior, mole rats are young at heart, thriving well into their late 30s — decades years longer than their peer species — thanks to unique traits that help them fend off age-related illnesses like cancer. 

One such trait is the ability to remove a specific kind of dysfunctional cells that linger in the body and cause health issues — and scientists think understanding this process could help develop better anti-aging drugs and therapies

Part of the process of aging, in humans as well as rodents like mice and naked mole rats, is that some cells stop being able to grow and divide normally, a crucial process for healthy tissues.

These cells, known as senescent cells, are problematic because they also don’t die like normal cells. As a result, they aren’t removed by regular cellular clean-up in the body, accumulating in tissues and triggering inflammation

Part of anti-aging research focuses on how to get rid of senescent cells, a process called senolysis, to make room for healthy, well-functioning tissues. 

Naked mole rats excel at tidying up these senescent cells to prevent age-related decline, and we’re one step closer to understanding how, according to a research team led by scientists at Kumamoto University in Japan. 

They observed how mole rat cells, and the animals themselves, responded when exposed to DNA-damaging substances in the lab. 

The researchers found that the naked mole rats have a natural senolytic mechanism, a specific process to kill off problem cells that are cluttering up tissue. By comparing the results to a similar experiment on mice, the researchers were able to identify the cellular pathways that may help mole rats protect themselves from the kind of damage that occurs with aging.

The results of the study were published last month in the EMBO Journal. 

While more research is needed to better understand how this works, the naked mole rat method of removing problem cells may someday lead to better anti-aging therapies for humans, according to Kyoko Miura, senior author of the study and professor of aging and longevity research at Kumamoto University. 

“Further studies focusing on the senescent cell removal mechanism in naked mole rat tissues are needed to understand which kind of senescent cells should be removed, when, and how,” Miura said in a press release. “Such studies may aid the development of safer and targeted senolytic drugs.”

But don’t be jealous of mole rats’ natural youthfulness. Simple healthy habits like regular exercise, eating your veggies, and building a strong social network are evidence-based ways to add years onto your life, and you can start now.  

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