S u m m a r y :
Vampires might have actually existed. Okay, not your regular Dracula/Salvatore-Brothers/Twilight kind of vampires! But, in the form of people with rare blood disorders known as porphyria, suggests a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Real Vampire Stories?
What if vampires have never really been just fiction? What if they actually exist, albeit in a milder form of what is described? Perhaps, the tales that we hear of are only exaggerated versions of reality…
Well, a new study suggests that ‘vampires’ are just people with a blood disorder—a team of researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital argue that vampire folklore might have budded from on a medical condition that arises from a genetic mutation.
What is Porphyria?
The blood disorders, a group of eight, are collectively called porphyria. They occur from genetic mutations that affect the production of haeme, the component of the oxygen-carrying molecule known as haemoglobin found in red blood cells; haeme will normally bind with iron to transport oxygen throughout the body, and this is what gives blood its characteristic red colour. These genetic anomalies exist in different forms, resulting in different clinical representations of porphyria, one of which might be behind vampire folklore.
Why Are Vampires Afraid of the Sun?
The most common kind of porphyria is called erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP); it usually occurs in childhood. People suffering from EPP will have skin that is exceedingly sensitive to light—exposure to sun will cause painful and disfiguring blisters. This condition comes hand in hand with chronic anaemia—this is why its patients will feel perpetually tired and look very pale, explains study author Barry Paw from the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
These people will not be able to enjoy the sunshine at all. Even cloudy days are no fun because of the presence of a sufficient amount of ultraviolet light to give them blisters.
What Happens in the Bodies of Vampires
Haeme production is brought about by a process called porphyrin synthesis which occurs in the liver and bone marrow. The genetic defects associated with EPP obstructs this process leading to a decreased haeme level which is also associated with an accumulation of protoporphyrin components in red blood cells, blood plasma, and the liver. When these molecules are exposed to light, cell-damaging chemicals are produced, which explains why EPP patients will have swelled, burnt, and red skin when sun rays touch them.
These processes remain mysterious when it comes to their occurrence at the molecular and genetic levels. The new study, however, attempts to shed some light on the defects. Paw and his colleagues conducted gene sequencing of a family from France suffering from EPP of an unknown genetic signature. They have, thus, found a new mutation of a gene which is involved in mitochondrial protein folding.
Why Vampires Drink Blood Explained
Patients of the blood disorder will have to stay indoors during the day, and they get blood transfusions to balance their haeme levels. However, back when blood transfusion was not a thing, it is believed that the people would consume animal blood; they would also, obviously, only come out at night. All of this might have fuelled the vampire stories.
A Cure for Vampires?
The genetic mutation causing EPP revealed in the new study might also be reversed. Paw and his team not only found the biological mechanism behind vampire legends but they also deduced a possible way to treat EPP. According to them, identifying the different gene mutations will help scientists to develop therapies to correct the defects in genes of the patients.
“Although vampires aren’t real, there is a real need for innovative therapies to improve the lives of people with porphyrias,” says Paw.