Three University of Pretoria scientists are part of a team whose research on African mole-rats has led to a discovery that may hold the key to managing pain in humans.
The team’s research on the rates, which are indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa, found that the rodents were insensitive to different types of pain. The species’ adaptations to a lack of oxygen and a surplus of carbon dioxide underground, as well as a humidity close to saturation, could spur further advances in human pain management.
The research team, led by Professor Gary Lewin from the Max Delbrück Centre for molecular medicine in Berlin, Germany, includes US neuroscientist Professor Thom Park and University of Pretoria zoologist Professor Nigel Bennett, supported by UP colleagues Dr Heike Lutermann and Daniel Hart.
"(The research) has revealed that as a consequence of genetic changes to its pain channels, the highveld mole-rat, which is found in South Africa’s Gauteng province, is able to live alongside venomous ants with painful stings that mole-rats avoid," Prof. Bennett said.
He said the research team had explored how eight other African mole-rat species related to the naked mole-rat responded to three substances that usually cause a brief burning sensation on the skin of human beings and other mammals.