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Members of a remote Ecuadorian tribe immune to cancer, diabetes

“Cure for cancer” is the modern-day medical holy grail, and science has now moved one step closer to making a breakthrough. Dr. Jaime Guevara-Aguirre has been studying a group of 99 villagers in a remote Ecuadorian village for the past 24 years, all of whom are afflicted with a rare condition called Laron syndrome, or Laron-type dwarfism, The New York Times reports. In addition to their short stature, Guevara-Aguirre has also discovered that the villagers are immune, or at least highly resistant, to cancer and diabetes.

The finding is based on trends observed during the doctor’s two-plus decades of patient observations. Guevara-Aguirre noticed that cancer was very common among his non-Laron-afflicted patients, but a very rare occurrence among those with the mutation. Cases of diabetes were similarly absent even though obesity is one common characteristic among the Laron-afflicted.

The condition is caused by a genetic mutation to the growth hormone receptor which is responsible for determining your height. A side effect seems to be a greatly enhanced resistance to cancer and diabetes. Guevara-Aguirre put his observations to the test in conjunction with University of Southern California researcher Dr. Valter D. Longo. The two introduced a serum made from the genetic material of Laron patients into a sample of human test cells that had been damaged by a DNA-disrupting chemical.

The results of the test were two-fold. First, the serum shielded the cells from further genetic damage. What’s more, already damaged cells self-destructed, preventing them from becoming cancerous. It isn’t a cure, but it’s a step closer. Now that there’s knowledge of a natural resistance, you can expect researchers to dig in and explore the roots of what causes it so they can, hopefully, reliably replicate it in a laboratory environment.

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