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Mummies Give Insight Into Colorectal Cancer

Update Date: Mar 01, 2016 02:14 PM EST

A study of 18th-century Hungarian mummies has shown that genetic predispositions to colorectal cancer happened even before modernization. This shows that processed food, physical inactivity and other modern factors may not be as important to cancer as believed, according toTel Aviv University researchers.

The scientists studied mutations of the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene, whose link to the development of colorectal adenomas and carcinomas was clear.

"Colorectal cancer is among the most common health hazards of modern times," said Rina Rosin-Arbesfeld, co-author of the study. "And it has a proven genetic background. We wanted to discover whether people in the past carried the APC mutation - how common it was, and whether it was the same mutation known to us today. In other words: Is the increase in the incidence of cancer the result of man's manipulation of nature alone?"

With 51 samples from 20 Hungarian mummies, the researchers, through genetic sequencing techniques, could locate mutations in APC genes in large intestine tissue samples taken from the mummies.

"Our data reveal that one of the mummies may have had a cancer mutation. This means that a genetic predisposition to cancer may have already existed in the pre-modern era," said Ella Sklan, another co-author of the study. "But we've found this mutation in only one individual so far. Additional studies with a larger sample size should be conducted in order to draw more meaningful conclusions."

The study was published in the Feb. 10 issue of PLOS One.

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