They’re about three and a half feet tall and their origins are mysterious, but an isolated group of Ecuadorians with a genetic mutation causing dwarfism are making news for another reason: They hardly ever get cancer or diabetes. Medical researchers say the villagers’ genetic protection from these diseases could lead to preventative treatments for the general population–and could therefore increase human longevity.
The villagers’ condition is called Laron syndrome, which is caused by an insensitivity to growth hormone.
Laron syndrome results from a mutation in the gene that codes for growth hormone receptor (GHR), a protein that binds with the human growth hormone and ultimately results in the production of the insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), causing cells to grow and divide. When a person has two of these mutated and non-working genes, they can develop the disease. [LiveScience]
Jaime Guevara-Aguirre, the leader of the study about the Ecuadorians appearing in Science Translational Medicine, has been looking into their condition and extraordinary resistance to age-related diseases for more than two decades, since his serendipitous discovery of the people while riding horseback in Ecuador.
“I discovered the population in 1987,” Dr. Guevara-Aguirre said in an interview from Ecuador. “In 1994, I noticed these patients were not having cancer, compared with their relatives. People told me they are too few people to make any assumption. People said, ‘You have to wait 10 years,’ so I waited. No one believed me until I got to Valter Longo in 2005.” [The New York Times]
As we slowly slide out of the steroid era in baseball, human growth hormone (HGH) lingers as the next doping trend in major sports. Players like the New York Yankees’ Andy Pettitte have been implicated as HGH users already, and teammate Alex Rodriguez in currently one of many players being questioned in a federal investigation into the substance. However, until now there was no hard evidence that athletes gained a competitive edge by taking it. Researchers say a new study changes that.
“This is the first demonstration that growth hormone improves performance and justifies its ban in sport,” said Dr. Ken Ho, who led the study [AP].
The new research shows that the gains for athletes cheating with HGH could be staggering—but uneven and fraught with side effects. In the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers divided 96 athletes into groups that received either placebo, HGH, testosterone, or a testosterone/HGH mix:
After eight weeks, researchers found that growth hormone improved sprint capacity in men and women by an average of 3.9% over the placebo group — which would trim 0.4 of a second from a 10-second time in the 100-meter dash, said study lead author Dr. Kenneth Ho at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia. In the 2008 Olympics, the top three male finishers had times of 9.69, 9.89 and 9.91 seconds.
That same 3.9% improvement could cut 1.2 seconds from a 30-second time in a 50-meter swim, Ho said [Los Angeles Times].