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Research: 400-year-old Korean mummy died from adult disease

Research: 400-year-old Korean mummy died from adult disease

Posted September. 13, 2017 08:11,   

Updated September. 13, 2017 08:59

Korean researchers have successfully confirmed the cause of death of a 400-year-old mummy of the Joseon Dynasty by the autopsy. The mummy’s cause of death was arteriosclerosis associated with a family history. It is the first time that arteriosclerosis, one of adult diseases, was discovered among ancient East Asians. The finding has a significant meaning in that genetic inheritance could be a cause of adult diseases and they had existed in the past, and such illness is not a lifestyle disease that appeared in modern history.

According to a joint research team led by Shin Dong-hoon, an anatomy professor at Seoul National University Hospital, and Lee Eunju, internal medicine professor at Asan Medical Center, on Tuesday, it has conducted an analysis of the 17th century female mummy of the Joseon Dynasty discovered in Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang Province in 2010 and confirmed that atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease was the cause of death.

Atherosclerosis is a disease that thickens blood vessels as LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) is built up in the walls of arteries and it is known as the disease of the modern era. Symptoms and unhealthy lifestyle habits such as diabetes, excessive calorie intake, lack of exercise, abdominal obesity are known as common cause of the disease and this could be further developed into fatal cardiovascular disorders such as apoplectic ictus (stroke) or myocardial infarction.

Back in 2012, a European joint research team discovered the 5,300-year-old "Ice Man" mummy suffered from atherosclerosis for the first time.

The female mummy was discovered at an apartment construction site in Mungyeong, in April 2010. The mummy was a single woman in an estimated age of 35 to 50. According to the analysis, the risk alleles of atherosclerosis have been found in seven different sequence, and the research team determined that the genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease was the cause of death.

"The study has a significant meaning as it proved that our ancestors had genetic factors that could cause adult disease in contrast to the belief that such disease is a lifestyle disease," Professor Lee said. “This study also confirmed that a DNA analysis method can be effective for the research whose pathologic diagnosis was difficult to be obtained only with autopsy or radiological finding.” The research result was published in the recent issue of online scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Mee-Jee Lee image@donga.com