In a very interesting story published in the New York Times on Thursday, scientists say they are closer to unlocking the mysteries of cancer and increasing longevity through their studies of community of dwarfs living in a remote village in Ecuador.
Now the common factor among the Ecuadorian villagers is that they all have a genetic mutation that is blocking a key growth hormone, and this mutation seems to offer lifelong protection against cancer and diabetes.
Specifically, this is a mutation in the gene that makes the receptor for growth hormone, making it unable to react to growth hormone.
In children without this gene mutation, growth hormone forces liver cells to produce another hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which makes the children grow. If children with the mutation are given IGF-1 prior to reaching puberty, they can grow to a relatively normal height.
In laboratories, researchers have also studied roundworms, which have a hormone similar to IGF-1, called DAF-2. Worms that do not produce DAF-2 live twice as long as worms that do produce the hormone.
To me, this story proves that we are coming closer and closer to truly understanding the biology of cancer and cell growth.
Yes, there are plenty of environmental toxins that have been strongly associated with cancer such as nicotine, tar and certain petrochemicals, but in order for a cancer cell to become a major tumor, you need to alter some of the body's internal pathways that lead to cellular multiplication.
And according to this particular story, there are certain hormones, like the human growth hormone, that may have some indirect effect in the regulation of cancer cells.
To the average American, this may mean nothing, but to a lot of scientists, this is indeed very exciting. We're getting closer and closer in coming up with effective cures for devastating diseases that at one time, were death sentences.