Unclean! Leprosy is a tragic and misunderstood disease. Many sufferers lead lives of agony, humiliation, and isolation. Now researchers in Scotland say the dreaded condition could someday lead to restorative new treatments.
Leprosy, also called Hansen’s disease, usually infects the nerves, skin, eyes, limbs, and lungs. Sufferers with damaged nerves sometimes feel no pain. In the worst cases, a leprous person can even lose fingers or toes due to damage or infection.
Historically, people have shunned persons infected with leprosy. In Bible times, leprous individuals had to avoid all contact with uninfected individuals. They lived either alone or in leper colonies. Sadly, such areas still exist in some parts of the world.
Jesus treated sick people with compassion. He healed multiple persons affected with leprosy during His earthly ministry. But the best gift these individuals received was not new skin. It was Jesus Christ Himself. (John 3:17)
According to a BBC news report, researchers at the University of Edinburgh are conducting leprosy experiments on armadillos.
For years, scientists have known that armadillos can contract leprosy like humans. In those armored animals, the infection goes to the liver. But unlike humans, armadillos have a surprise response to the disease: Instead of causing damage, leprosy makes armadillo livers grow bigger—and perhaps healthier. It seems the disease “hijacks” the organ and produces fully functioning vessels, small lobes, ducts.
“It is kind of mind-blowing,” Professor Anura Rambukkana, from the University of Edinburgh, told the BBC about leprosy’s effect on armadillo livers.
University of Edinburgh scientists stumbled upon the armadillo liver-leprosy discovery. They were studying leprosy in mice cells. The bacteria seemed to prompt these cells to change for the better. Rambukkana thought about what the bacteria might do to a live animal. Then he realized the bacteria his lab used came from leprous armadillos. He asked the armadillo researchers about the infected armadillos’ livers—and discovered the livers were enlarged.
Human patients with liver problems sometimes develop tumors or scar tissue. Neither problem showed up in the armadillos with leprosy. Evidently, the leprosy-enlarged livers worked just fine.
There is more research to be done. But the Scottish study may provide clues about how the human body accomplishes organ and cell renewal. Someday, the transformed cells could help repair human livers. That would be wonderful news for those who hope to reverse disease damage or are awaiting transplants.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, . . . who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases. — Psalm 103:2-3
Why? God works all things for good (Romans 8:28) and can even show His mercy through circumstances that seem at first to be only harmful.