Of jackalopes and tree men--and the virus they have in common

It still amazes me sometimes what viruses are capable of doing. I've written a number of times about one virus in particular, the human papilloma virus (HPV). This is the virus implicated in cervical cancer, and it also plays a role in head and neck cancers. There are a number of different strains of HPV--some of them are oncogenic (cancer-causing), while others cause more benign infections, such as warts.

A related virus in rabbits also causes a type of warts, which can replicate out of control and form horny growths (indeed, this is the likely origin of the jackalope myth). Humans are usually able to keep these growths under control, and warts, while annoying, typically don't have major effects on one's quality of living. However, like rabbits, sometimes these infections can get out of control, as in the recently reported case of Dede, an Indonesian fisherman dubbed the "tree man" due to his root-like warty growths (video at the link). More after the jump...

The fisherman, Dede, has been suffering from a worsening of this condition for the past 20 years, starting off as mere warts but progressing to horny projections, particularly on his hands and feet. Local doctors didn't have answers for him, but U of Maryland dermatologist Anthony Gaspari recently traveled to Indonesia to investigate:

But now an American dermatology expert who flew out to Dede's home village south of the capital Jakarta claims to have identified his condition, and proposed a treatment that could transform his life.

After testing samples of the lesions and Dede's blood, Dr Anthony Gaspari of the University of Maryland concluded that his affliction is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a fairly common infection that usually causes small warts to develop on sufferers.

Dede's problem is that he has a rare genetic fault that impedes his immune system, meaning his body is unable to contain the warts.

The virus was therefore able to "hijack the cellular machinery of his skin cells", ordering them to produce massive amounts of the substance that caused the tree-like growths known as "cutaneous horns" on his hands and feet.

They're currently treating him with a synthetic vitamin A, which the article claimed "has been shown to arrest the growth of warts in severe cases of HPV". (I didn't see any evidence of this on a quick PubMed search, but either I'm using the wrong key words or they've not been published).

Turning rabbits into jackalopes, humans into trees; causing cancer and destroying our immune system; such an incredible repertoire for a mere package of nucleic acids that can't even replicate on its own.

Images from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/11/12/wtree11…

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Is there any reason why he doesn't cut the massive growths on his hand off, or at the very least, trim them back? Surely, they can't be innervated?

Perhaps they are talking about all-trans-retinoic acid, a treatment used for acute-promyelocytic leukemia (imagine that! vitamin A treatment for leukemia!)

A cursory PubMed search seemed to support this idea... but I'm not sure about the specifics.

@Ed:
At the video, the boy explains that the last time they operated to remove the warts they grew back - faster - after the operation.

By James Stein (not verified) on 20 Nov 2007 #permalink

I'd seen pictures of this condition, but I had no idea it was HPV. Makes me want to soak my spine in bleach.

Hoom...

More seriously, that is truly scary. I hope that they manage to at least treat the warts, even if they can't banish them completely.

It's amazing how vitamins work. So many diseases have been cured by the vitamin, God's medicine. I don't know anyone personally who has ever suffered from scurvy, berri berri, pellagra, or rickets. I believe it's due to the fact that we have more vitamins available to us through better food sources.
I do pray that this treatments works and Dede is cured and restored as much as possible to his original self.

What mystifies me is how he managed to allow them to grow that long in the first place. What you see here is the result of years and years of growth, and I have a hard time keeping myself from picking at things that *don't* stick out of my skin.

I doubt the increased rate of growth was caused by the trimming that happened all those years ago. Honestly it would only be a bit of daily maintenance to keep all that stuff under control. As far as I know the growths usually start off as normal(ish) growths before becoming the monstrous things we see here.

By Jibbity Joe-Ja… (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

That's no ordinary penis - its a root of lust!

By La Blue Girl (not verified) on 05 Apr 2008 #permalink

Are you all stupid or something? It is a hoax!!!! It's not real!!! Governments of civilized countries pay millions of dollars to educate people, and they still believe this crap!! you should be ashamed of yourself if you believe that humans can start growing tree branches from their skin...it goes against all biological function and possibility!! Just because fox news or the discovery channel show it does not make it real....they probably knew that millions of gullible people just like you would sit their in amazement....go get an education you dumb gullible human beings...what is the world coming to!

That is no hoax. If the growths are cut off and grow back faster, that is because it is similar to the "pruning" process with plants. I wonder if anyone has determined if skin fungus is also in this picture, and what kinds? There are at least 3 men known to have this skin condition, and they all share a genetic mutation which seems to make their immune systems incapable of containing the HPV virus......truth is stranger than fiction.

By morgellonsdoc (not verified) on 23 Sep 2010 #permalink

Almost every summer in Minneapolis, I see a "jackalope" or two. The trick is to actually look at rabbits, rather than just glance past them. I even got a nice photo of one near where I live a few years ago.

go to www(dot)velomobiling(dot)com (slash) gallery(slash)critters(slash)jackalopes(slash)JackalopeMary(dot)jpg (dot)html