Medical Mystery: No Fingerprints

The surprising challenges of a rare genetic condition.

ByABC News
September 9, 2008, 9:58 AM

Sept. 5, 2008— -- This report originally ran on January 9, 2007.

Imagine touching glass and not leaving a mark -- virtually no trace of the complex lines and ridges that make up each individual fingerprint. Most of us take these identifying traits for granted. After all, everyone has fingerprints, right?


Flight attendant Cheryl Maynard does not have fingerprints, and that has made getting the security clearances she needs for her job a challenge.

Maynard has dealt with challenges due to her missing prints for her entire life. Her father was in the military and had top security clearance, so the entire family had to be fingerprinted frequently. In Maynard's case, that process was understandably difficult and raised a number of questions.

Maynard was born with a rare genetic disorder called DPR, or dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis, and she's not only missing fingerprints -- she's also missing those unique marks on her toes, in addition to being unable to sweat.

The condition is passed down through the female side of the family. People that suffer from DPR can also have extremely thin hair, brittle, ridged nails and mottled skin. DPR is so rare that the Maynards were the only family in the world known to carry the genetic defect.

How is this condition possible? The ridges on our fingers and toes start forming in utero at about 11 weeks. However, if certain genes mutate, the body never creates the signals that form the prints -- resulting in the Maynard family condition, DPR, as well as approximately a hundred other genetic disorders that fall under the umbrella of ectodermal dysplasia syndromes, or E-D'S.

Caleb Radley, an 11-year-old boy, exhibits many of the same characteristics as Maynard.

"I have dry skin," he explained. "I don't have sweat glands, I have a little bit of hair, I don't have a lot of teethI don't have a fingerprint."

But while he and Maynard share many of the same symptoms, the fact that Radley has a small number of teeth, which are abnormally formed, distinguishes his condition from Maynard's DPR.

This condition may not seem life-threatening, but it can actually be extremely hazardous.