The PJ Tatler

On the Alzheimer's Front, Good News and Bad News

The good news is there might be a gene that’s resistant to degenerative brain diseases. The bad news is:

A tribe in Papua New Guinea has developed a gene that’s resistant to degenerative brain diseases – after years of eating their dead.

Women and children of the tribe, called the Fore, used to eat their deceased relatives’ brains at funerals as a sign of respect. Eating brains left members of the tribe regularly afflicted with a mad cow-like disease called kuru. At the epidemic’s peak during the 1950s, at which point the tradition of eating their dead was banned, the disease claimed 2% of the population per year.

But now, a new study by Nature Publishing Group observes that those years of cannibalism led the Fore to develop a gene that’s resistant to prions, the kuru-causing proteins that rip through its victims’ brains. They’re linked to other degenerative illnesses such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. “This is a striking example of Darwinian evolution in humans,” John Collinge, who co-led the study, told Reuters.

Looks like, in this case, the cure is worse than the disease.

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