CHICAGO (CBS) — Naked mole rats are infamous for being ugly little creatures, but they could point the way toward improvements in treatment of heart attack victims.

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, University of Illinois at Chicago neuroscientist Thomas Park acknowledges naked mole rats aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

“They look a lot like hot dogs,” he said. “They’re pink and furless.”

And on top of that, their teeth stick straight forward out of their mouth.

But Park admires the mole rats’ ability to survive low oxygen levels without brain damage, just like human babies.

“What we found is that the mole rates retain those baby characteristics throughout their very long life, and so now we think we have a new target to try to help people that find themselves in an oxygen-deprived situation,” he said.

The difference is calcium levels, Park explained.

“One of the first things that kills brain cells when they run out of oxygen is too much calcium enters the cell,” he said.

Park says naked mole rats block that calcium uptake, and he has figured out the mechanism through which they do so.

Park says the next step is figuring how to mimic mole rat brain defenses in heart attack victims.

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