Grand Rapids, Mich. (Aug. 21, 2009) An indigenous family living in a mountainous area of Malaysian Borneo helped Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) researchers to discover information about genetic mutations associated with acromegaly, a form of gigantism that often results in enlarged hands, feet, and facial features.
The information could lead to better screening for the disease, which most often results from a benign pituitary gland tumor that can be deadly if left untreated, but which is difficult to detect until later stages when features become pronounced.
Researchers located a 31-member aboriginal family that included individuals with acromegaly living in a mountainous region of Borneo, Malaysia when the effects of the family patriarch's growing pituitary tumor necessitated medical treatment. A medical team including VARI Distinguished Scientific Investigator Bin Tean Teh, M.D., Ph.D., and staff from the Department of Medicine at the University of Malaya Medical Centre and the Department of Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Malaysia subsequently traveled to the family's village several times to collect blood samples for testing.
"Researchers had recently found a mutation in the AIP gene associated with acromegaly," said Dr. Teh, "but we found that several family members who didn't have visible symptoms of acromegaly had this mutation as well. This increases the importance of screening for families with cases of acromegaly since anyone could be a carrier. On one side of the family, at least two generations carried the gene before someone showed any symptoms."
The later stages of acromegaly often produce enlarged hands and feet, protruding brows and lower jaws, thick voice and slowed speech from swelling of vocal cords, and other symptoms. When diagnosed, the tumor and entire pituitary gland are usually removed, followed by hormone therapy for the rest of the patient's life. However, because the prog
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Van Andel Research Institute