Ecuadorean Dwarfs May Unlock Cancer Clues

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Longo believes that as long as the drug is given to adults, side effects could be controlled. He envisions a drug to prevent cancer that is as common as Lipitor and other statins that help prevent heart disease. But researchers still have a long way to go.

"Again, if it is confirmed that this population down in Ecuador does not get cancer or gets cancer at a reduced rate, and once we do have the drugs, and we're working very hard ... and not just us. There are several pharmaceutical companies that are working on these drugs, then these have the potential to have wide applications."

Understanding 'The Phenomenon of Cancer'

Back in Ecuador, Dr. Jaime Guevara and his patients are cooperating with USC's research.

"Over here we have this wonderful experiment of nature," says Dr. Guevara. "It's very tragic for the patients, but it's a wonderful opportunity for us the researchers, in order to understand what happens with the human body when IGF-1 is low."

When asked if he thinks this research will eventually lead to a cure for cancer, Guevara is cautious. "I am a very conservative person. The only thing I can tell you is that this thing will lead to understand a little more the phenomenon of cancer."

But there is something more Guevara and his patients want. The Larons stunted growth could easily have been normalized with regular injections of human growth hormone before adolescence. But treatment would cost tens of thousands of dollars, well beyond the means of most in a developing country like Ecuador. Drug companies have promised free drugs before but have never delivered them.

Norman Apolo insists that this is not just about finding a cure for cancer; he wants to see younger Larons given the medications they need.

"If there's a chance that we can help," Apolo says, "then yes, I am willing to participate. But I don't want to be used. I am happy to collaborate, but we don't want to be used."

It's a modest request from those who by accident of nature might help unlock the origins of cancer.

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