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K-State Today

November 14, 2018

Naked mole rats provide unique mentoring and research opportunity

Submitted by Joe Montgomery

A group including Kansas State University veterinary faculty, staff, an intern, students and an alumnus recently finished an intense three-day anesthesia research project at the Lincoln Zoo in Nebraska. The featured subject of the project involved naked mole rats.

"This project is the research internship project of Dr. Gail Huckins, our zoological medicine intern," said David Eshar, associate professor in companion exotic pets, wildlife and zoo animal medicine. "The zoo veterinarian is Dr. Trenton Shrader, 2015 K-State College of Veterinary Medicine graduate and director of medicine and conservation projects. Also assisting us were three College of Veterinary Medicine students: Carolyn Mark, Kallie Woodruff and Elizabeth Loos; and Veterinary Health Center staff member Sarah Ostrom."

Eshar said the project received funding through the 2018 MCAT grant.

The study is looking at the impact of different anesthetic protocols on mole rats, Eshar said.

According to Eshar, naked mole rats are members of the family Bathyergidae and are subterranean rodents native to sub-Saharan Africa. Their body weights are usually 30-60 grams. The mole rats have developed several physiological adaptations to survive in their hypoxic and hypercapnic burrow environment, including a decreased basal metabolic rate, increased hematocrit and hemoglobin with increased oxygen affinity.

Previous studies have shown the evolutionary adaptations of naked mole rats have made them research models for a variety of behaviors and conditions, including aging research, because of their status as the longest-living rodent species, cancer resistance studies given their rare likelihood of cancer development, and hypoxia resistance. They also are used in behavioral studies as they are the only eusocial mammal species.

"The collaboration with the Lincoln Zoo let us work with a kept group of naked mole rats that are undergoing their annual health evaluations," Eshar said. "This provides an advantageous opportunity to perform the study, eliminating the need for a separate operational setup, and minimizing animal use and related costs. The novel data from this study will enhance the clinical knowledge of this animal species thus, contributing to the reputation and showing the professional commitment of K-State in promoting the growth of exotic mammal medicine knowledge.

"As a zoological medicine specialist, I am constantly seeking opportunities to expand my clinical experience in nontraditional species," Eshar said. "Generating novel data in a new species is a major goal and based on previous experience performing similar studies in other species. It is also greatly appreciated by peers and colleagues, and accepted for conference presentations and publications."

Eshar said that mentoring house officers and students is another important goal, as well as promoting their professional development.

"This study will involve our current zoological medicine intern, Dr. Gail Huckins, who is a 2017 graduate from Cornell University," Eshar said. "Dr. Huckins completed a small animal medicine and surgery rotating internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City in June 2018 before joining K-State. This work will improve her clinical skills, promote her development as a researcher, and offer conference presentation and publication opportunities that will also support her application for a competitive residency program."