The shocking facts about tree man syndrome
Tree man syndrome first gained international attention when Discovery Channel featured an Indonesian man named Dede Koswara, also known as ‘Tree Man’, on a documentary entitled ‘Half Man Half tree’. Many were baffled to see a man who seems to be covered in bark. Here are some of the shocking facts about the Tree Man syndrome:
1 It can be caused by a common sexually transmitted wart virus infection
According to the study conducted by Dr. Anthony Gaspari, an American dermatologist of the University of Maryland working on the case of Dede Koswara- one of the very few known casualties of the disease from Indonesia, the man’s illness was prompted by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), an impartially common infection among sexually active men and women. HPV takes over the skin cells, producing large amounts of Keratin on the skin, hence, subjects of the infection generally develop warts around the moist layers of their genital areas or at times, in their hands and feet. It infects approximately 80% of the general population with most people being carriers only with no noticeable symptoms.
2 A decelerated immune system amplifies the disease
Further studies of the disease by Dr. Gaspari on Koswara showed that the latter also has a rare genetic mutation which causes his immune system to decelerate, leading to his inability to contain the growth of warts on his body. Koswara recalled that he first noticed a wart coming out of a cut on his leg when he was just 10 years old. He didn’t pay too much attention to it until he noticed more warts growing on different parts of his body. He even remembered cutting one of the bigger warts himself with the help of a friend.
3 Sufferers of the disease are victims of mutation
Mutation is the process by which an organism’s DNA sequence is altered. In the case of the sufferers of Tree Man Syndrome, mutation occurs in their EVER1 and EVER2 genes on chromosome 17 which are responsible for regulating the circulation of Zinc in the nucleus of cells. These genes prevent the entree of viral proteins to cellular zinc stores resulting to their restricted growth. These zinc stores are needed for the body’s immune system to function properly. Hence, those affected by the ailment lack the ability to protect themselves from certain bacteria or viruses which, in the case of tree man syndrome, are Human Papillomavirus.
4 There are two types in which the disease may occur
The lesions of a patient with the disease can be differentiated into two types. The first one being reddish brown in color with flaking surfaces and rough edges while the other type growing on skin that is more exposed to sunlight and are slightly raised, often brown in color similar to a tree bark. On Discovery channel’s documentary entitled ‘Tree Man Meets Tree Man’, Dede Koswara met Zainal, another man from his region in Indonesia who is also a sufferer of the disease. Zainal has the first type of lesion while Dede has the second type.
5 The ‘branches’ regrow
Even with multiple operations, it is still impossible for a tree man syndrome sufferer to fully recuperate from the disease since the warts would just regrow once removed. In the case of Dede Koswara, he had 6 kilos of warts removed from his body on August of 2008 but he had to go back to the hospital on December the same year because he reported that he was unable to make use of his hands again.
6 There is still no known cure for the illness
Doctors locally in Indonesia and internationally are still searching for treatments for the strange skin disease on Dede Koswara. Although, there has been multiple surgeries performed on Koswara including eight major operations removing pounds of dead skin, the warts would only regrow faster. Dr. Gaspari suggested other various forms of treatment including chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and giving him doses of synthetic Vitamin A to stunt the growth of warts. At the time of writing, Koswara has been undergoing two surgeries each year to remove the excessive growth of warts on his body. Although this is only a temporary solution to his problem, it is through this that he can be able to utilize parts of his body especially his hands.
7 It may lead to skin cancer
A study conducted by doctors Sullivan and Ellis in 1939 defined a close relationship between the tree man syndrome and increased susceptibility of skin cancer. The lesions of a tree man syndrome victim can progress to squamous cell carcinoma which is a type of cancer affecting the DNA of squamous cells, causing the cells to grow uncontrollably.
8 It is one of the rarest diseases on Earth
There are only around 200 reported circumstances of the disease worldwide. Dede Koswara and Zainal from Indonesia plus a man named Ion Toater living in Romania are among the most widely known cases.
9 It is not contagious
Unlike what most people believe, the tree man syndrome cannot be passed from one person to another through physical contact. It is a genetic disorder, which means it can only be passed from one offspring to another. The genetic fault is the main cause of a victim’s low immunity to HPVs, resulting to excessive growth of warts all over the body. Even though it is not contagious, it is still important to take note that the HPV infecting a victim can still pose a danger to the health of another person.
10 Direct radiation is out of the options for cure of the disease
A man in the Netherlands named Ivan, who was diagnosed with tree man syndrome, pursued direct radiation therapy in hopes to cure himself but this eventually led to him getting cancer. Since then, direct radiation therapy has not been used to treat sufferers of the disease.