How Can Some Animals Tolerate Low Oxygen?
Lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, is a factor in several of the leading causes of death in Canada, including cardiac diseases, respiratory diseases and stroke.
Most research into what causes these diseases is performed on mice and rats. But these animals, like humans, are intolerant of hypoxia—so researchers can only use them to search for ways to repair damage after the fact.
As Canada Research Chair in Comparative Neurophysiology, Dr. Matthew Pamenter is looking for a new, more proactive approach to studying hypoxia. He and his research team are studying hypoxia-tolerant species—such as naked mole rats—that have lived in hypoxic (low-oxygen) environments for thousands of years.
This approach allows Pamenter and his team to identify the strategies these animals have developed over time to protect themselves from the damage caused by low-oxygen environments. It is also a first step in identifying possible ways to prevent damage caused by hypoxia before it occurs.
By studying extremely hypoxia-tolerant mammals, Pamenter and his team are hoping to better understand the mechanisms that naturally protect the brain, heart and whole organisms against the damaging effects of hypoxia. Their goal is to learn how some species have evolved to adapt to oxygen deficiency. This knowledge could lead to new strategies and therapies to treat diseases related to hypoxia.