Village of Dwarfs May Hold Clues to Cure Cancer

A group of scientists are trying to determine whether a group of dwarfs in Ecuador – all of them living in a remote village on the slopes of the Andes Mountains – could hold the clues to cure cancer.

The members of the group, about 100 of them closely studied by researchers from the University of Southern California, almost never get cancer – or diabetes. They all suffer from mutated genes that lower their growth hormone activity, stunting their growth.

In a journal published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers suggest that blocking growth hormone in full-grown adults, through prescription drugs or a special diet, can unlock the mystery of cancer.

If it works, and blocking chronic growth hormones in adults have only minor side effects, said cell biologist Valter Longo of the University of Southern California who led the team studying the group, societies in the future would live without major illnesses.

"It's the dream of every administration, anywhere in the world," Longo said in a statement release by USC. "You live a long healthy life, and then you drop dead."

For about 23 years, Longo’s team studied the group, many with Laron syndrome and no bigger than 3 ½ feet tall, and about 1,600 relatives of normal stature. In that time span, there were no documented cases of diabetes and only one non-lethal case of cancer, according to the study.

While it’s still unclear whether the mutated gene, IGF-1, is the reason they were cancer- and diabetes-free, similar observations were made in genetic work done in yeast, worms and mice with a similar type of mutated gene.

Even though the group, who live Loja province of southern Ecuador, did not get cancer or diabetes, their lifespan is not higher than normal, the study said.

"Although all the growth hormone deficient subjects we met appear to be relatively happy and normal and are known to have normal cognitive function, there are a lot of strange causes of death, including many that are alcohol-related," Longo said.

Longo and his team are still trying to seek approval for a clinical trial to administer drugs that block growth hormone for people undergoing chemotherapy. A similar-type drug to treat gigantism has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

But, Longo said, diet restrictions may also have the same effect. Studies are underway to determine whether fasting alters growth factors that could have the same effect as the Laron mutation.

Fasting could trigger other health issues, so studies are being done to determine how diet changes could have the same outcome as the mutated gene.

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