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Ecuadorian dwarf community may hold key to fighting diabetes, cancer

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A highly rare condition - only 300 people in the world are known to be afflicted by Laron dwarfism, a third of which live in remote villages in Ecuador's southern Loja province. Remarkably, those afflicted with Laron dwarfism have been found to be free of two of the most debilitating illnesses - diabetes and cancer. Scientists now hope that studies will help determine immunity from both.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The Laron dwarfs appear to be immune from cancer in addition to other age and lifestyle associated diseases. Scientists are developing a drug which they hope will artificially produce the genetic defect in Laron syndrome, which protects against DNA damage that fuels cancer growth.

Those with Laron lack a hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, or IGF-1 and not growth hormone, which stimulate the cell to grow and divide to form new cells.

Too much of this hormone can lead a person to develop breast, prostate or bowel cancers at an early age, according to Discovery Magazine.

Studies of the Laron group showed that while they had high levels of growth hormone, their cells were not generating IGF-1. Dr. Jaime Guevara-Aguirre, a hormone expert from the Ecuadorian Institute of Endocrinology, and Dr. Valter Longo at the University of Southern California has been studying the Laron group for the best part of two decades.

Both believe that having less IGF1 could mean suffering less of the DNA damage that occurs in all of us when we age and which leads to cancer.

The Laron dwarfs are also being studied to see if they could hold the key for the prevention of diabetes, despite a tendency to obesity due to overeating and a poor diet, it is another condition to which they appear immune.

"I had seen maybe 20 of them on the streets when I was young," Longo said.

Enlisting the help of a family acquaintance Guevara-Aguirre, he visited the provinces of southern Ecuador, not too far from where he had spent parts of his childhood. He met with families, asked questions and took blood samples, discovering more and more cases each week.

By late 1989, they had enough cases, 20 total, 19 of them women, to publish an article on the "Little Women of Loja" which recognized the growth hormone deficiency in the inbred people.

Longo has taken the first step into developing anticancer and anti-aging drugs with lessons learned from Laron syndrome. Longo founded DSR Pharmaceuticals in 2008 with the aim of developing a pill that blocks the growth hormone receptor.

Approved by the regulatory body the Food and Drug Association, the drug treats individuals with acromegaly, a condition in which there is too much growth hormone in adults, resulting in abnormal growth of body tissues, especially hands, feet, and face.

Longo now believes that it might also be useful in the treatment of cancer.

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