colon cancer colon cancer DNA analysis revealed a mutation of the Adenomatous polyposis coli gene, or APC gene, which is linked with colon cancer. (Photo: vitstudio / Shutterstock)

Scientists brave mummy crypt and discover cancer-curing clue

Researchers confirm that disease predated modern times.

The scientists were looking for an elixir of some sort. One that could heal our ailments, rid us of the cancers that have befallen our time. But to find it, they'd have to enter ... dun dun DUN ... the house of mummies.

Scientists from Israel's Tel Aviv University were doing cancer research. The scientists knew a certain gene mutation was linked to colon cancer, and they wanted to find out if that gene mutation existed hundreds of years ago.

"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," said Professor Rina Rosin-Arbesfeld, one of the researchers. "In other words: Is the increase in the incidence of cancer the result of man's manipulation of nature alone?"

Hungarian mummy. Could a mummy help cure cancer? (Photo: Tel Aviv University)

So, naturally, they decided to go Indiana Jones on the whole endeavor and dig around a mummy crypt. In 1995, more than 265 mummies were excavated from sealed Hungarian crypts that were used to bury middle-class families in the 18th and 19th centuries. These crypts had low temperatures and constant ventilation, which preserved the mummies quite well for their new career as lab rats. The researchers combed through these bodies, looking for signs of colon cancer.

"Mummified soft tissue opens up a new area of investigation," said Professor Israel Hershkovitz, part of the research team. "Very few diseases attack the skeleton, but soft tissue carries evidence of disease. It presents an ideal opportunity to carry out a detailed genetic analysis and test for a wide variety of pathogens."

After doing DNA analysis, the scientists discovered the cancer gene mutation in one of the mummies.

For a long time, many have argued that cancer is a scourge of modernity, brought on by poor lifestyle choices, like eating junk food and not exercising enough. But this discovery means that cancer predated donuts and lazy chairs.

And while some lifestyle choices, like the plant-heavy Mediterranean diet, have been shown to decrease the rate of some forms of cancer, this discovery means that there's also probably a genetic predisposition to colon cancer that has nothing to do with modern lifestyles.

So, in conclusion: Science is cool, mummies are helping us cure cancer and Indiana Jones movies are way more realistic than we thought.


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Scientists brave mummy crypt and discover cancer-curing clue
Researchers confirm that disease predated modern times.