People living in remote villages in Ecuador have a genetic mutation that may just hold the key to shrinking mankind. The villagers have a rare condition known as Laron syndrome. They are generally less than three and a half feet tall, they are proportional, and interestingly, they are also almost free of cancer and diabetes.
The Laron People (we prefer not to think of their condition as a syndrome) have a mutation in the gene that makes the receptor for growth hormone. The receptor is a protein embedded in the membrane of cells. Its outside region is recognized by growth hormone circulating through the body; the inside region sends signals through the cell when growth hormone triggers the receptor. The Larons’ mutation means that their growth hormone receptor lacks the last eight units of its exterior region, so it cannot react to growth hormone. In normal height children, growth hormone stimulates the cells of the liver to make another hormone, called insulinlike growth factor, or IGF-1, which makes children grow.
If the Laron People are given doses of IGF-1 before puberty, they grow to almost ‘normal’ height. But this also means the risk to obtain cancer and diabetes is reintroduced into their lives. Which is why it is difficult to understand why their ‘discoverer’ Dr. Guevara-Aguirre is trying so hard to do just that. He doesn’t seem to realize the most exciting aspect of what he is investigating. Perhaps one day the Larons will be recognized as the people that helped make the first steps towards genetically downsizing the human body.