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Hairless tunnel diggers are teaching scientists a thing or two about aging

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Hairless tunnel diggers are teaching scientists a thing or two about aging

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SAN ANTONIO (Excerpt from December 24, 2006 story by Cindy Tumiel, Staff Writer, San Antonio Express-News)

With virtually hairless bodies, pink wrinkled skin and buckteeth worse than Bugs Bunny, naked mole-rats hardly are contenders for America's next top model.

But if people were more like naked mole-rats, well, we all probably would live longer.

The 3-inch-long rodents defy conventional wisdom that small species,like mice, die sooner than large ones, like elephants. Naked mole-rats,who reside in underground, insect-like colonies in the arid regions of East Africa, can live for up to 30 years in captivity — more than 10times longer than the typical laboratory rodent.

This stereotype-defying longevity makes them a fascination for scientists who are obsessed with understanding how and why living creatures age.

"This is an animal that seems to defy any dogma," said Rochelle Buffenstein, one of those scientists who enjoy prying into the molecular processes that underlie aging. Buffenstein maintains a colony of naked mole-rats and will be moving them to the University of Texas Health Science Center in February, when she joins the faculty of the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies.

Buffenstein calls them little walruses or saber-toothed sausages. Studies by her and others have shown that the ugly little mammals don't get cancer, osteoporosis or diabetes, diseases that are linked to age in humans, and they don't seem to accumulate damage from oxidative stress, nature's internal rusting process that pushes people along the road to old age.

(Photo  is courtesy of Dr. Rochelle Buffenstein)


 
 
   
 
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The Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies

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San Antonio, Texas  78245
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