Dermatology Associates of Atlanta World News Highlight: Chinese Study Finds Evidence of Leprosy Genes

One of the most ancient, and literately relevant, skin diseases is leprosy. It has been around for over 4,000 years, was well known in ancient China and was even mentioned in the Bible. Now that treatments are available for leprosy patients, the disease does not carry the same stigma as it once did. However, new evidence has been uncovered that suggests that scientists have been wrong about the causes of leprosy.

The long term study done in China, and recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found seven gene mutations which appear to increase a person’s susceptibility to the disease. This evidence refutes the previous claim that scientists have made about leprosy not being an inherited or congenital disease. While leprosy can indeed by “contagious”, this study shows that this is not the only way for a person to contract the disease. This new evidence suggests that leprosy is influenced by a person’s genes and that if a parent contracts leprosy, more than likely, their offspring will too.

The study looked at the genes of 706 leprosy patients and 1,225 non leprosy patients, finding the seven mutated genes in all of the leprosy patients. The genes found are classified as “susceptibility” genes, meaning that a person with these genes will not necessarily contract leprosy, but will be more susceptible to it if exposed.

This is an important discovery, because although leprosy isn’t a problem in countries like the US or China, it is still prevalent in developing nations. In the future, people with leprosy susceptibility can be identified before they contract the disease and permanent damage is made.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, affects the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and nerves. Unfortunately, any nerve damage to leprosy patients is permanent even if they are recovered from the disease.  While it is pretty unlikely that you will come into contact with leprosy in your lifetime, we at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta believe it is interesting to discover new knowledge about the skin and various skin diseases – especially diseases like leprosy that have been around for so many years!