Treeman disease, currently wrongly believed to be Epidermodysplasia verruciformis, is a condition in which a common form of Human Papillomavirus (HPV types 1 or 2) infects the skin and results in an uncontrolled growth and proliferation of infected keratinized epithelium. This results in a condition where the hands and feet of the individual are rendered useless due to massive “tree bark-like” growths:
We are the only researchers in the world with access to the DNA of all known Treemen, including the newest case diagnosed in January of 2016 at the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital. In 2015 our group won an Ultimate Prize in the BeHEARD Rare Disease Science Challenge from the Rare Genomics Institute and we now have support to do the analysis on these patients. As of today we have purified the DNA from each one of these cases (except the newest individual) and they are currently undergoing genomic sequencing.
Dr Martin Kast originally made contact with two of the Treemen back in 2008. During his trip to Indonesia he was able to collect specimens from the two known Treemen (Zainal and Dede), and while he was bushwhacking through the Bandung region a third case, Ivan, popped up in the Netherlands, Martin’s home country.At first there was some skepticism as to why a case in the Netherlands would be related to Indonesia, however upon interviewing the new patient Martin was able to establish that Ivan descended from individuals that lived within the same Bandung region, meaning that all three known Treemen are potentially linked through alleles that occur within the island of Java.
Dr Kast hypothesized at the time that the disease itself arises from a genetic defect that causes a failure of the immune system to respond to HPV infection within the epithelium, and we are now able to examine the underlying genetics that link the Treemen together.
Through this ongoing research it is our hope that we will be able to elucidate a genetic cause that explains the mechanism behind this terrible disease as well as provide a more direct way to treat these individuals that doesn’t involve radical removal of tissue through painful and in the long run largely ineffective surgical techniques.
Update (1.29.2016): We have preliminary and promising genetic data from one of the Treemen. Further analysis is underway.