Cannibalism And Dementia Cure: Brain Eating Reveals Rare Genetic Mutation In Papua New Guinea Tribe

First Posted: Jun 14, 2015 07:52 PM EDT

No, eating human brains doesn't sound like the healthiest idea nor the safest. But due to a genetic mutation, it may also be life-saving for some.

A new study published in the journal Nature discovered a gene adaptation thought to protect a small subset of the Fore tribe from Papua New Guinea, once infamously known for dying each year from a rare neural disease known as kuru. The tribe acquired the problem from eating the brains of their deceased relatives.

Other similar diseases to this are characterized by the proliferation of misshapen neural proteins known as prions, according to a news releaseOver time, prion-like plaques chew holes in the brain, resulting in genetic mutations similar to dementia. Yet for kuru survivors with built up immunity, they seemed to have developed a genetic mutation called V127.

Researchers at the University College London replicated the mutation in mice and found them to be protected against Kuru as well as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, otherwise known as the human version of mad cow disease and a much more common prion-based disorder.

In fact, just 15 patients were exposed to contaminated surgical instruments infected with the mad cow in the northeast, according to The Daily Beast. Furthermore, another recognizable example of a prion-based disease would include scrapie, which is seen in sheep.

Yet researchers are hopeful that the discovery of the genetic mutation found in the Papua New Guinea tribe may help to better elaborate on the molecular cause of prion based diseases, as well as possible treatments.

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