The naked mole rat is a 3-inch-long, cigar-sized creature that is also blind. The world's only known cold-blooded mammal, naked mole rats live in insectlike underground societies, incapable of feeling certain kinds of pain and never suffering cancer. And, perhaps because they smell so bad, they have learned to live on very little oxygen. "They look like they came from another planet," said Thomas Park, a research biologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who established several colonies of the subterranean African rodents in his lab in 1998. Park and other researchers are working with the species, hoping their research will lead to discoveries in new medical marvels, such as treatments for chronic pain, cures for cancer, and help for stroke and heart attack victims.
Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak