Daily Archives: July 20, 2010

King Tut and Sickle Cell Disease

Few deaths have generated more interest and confusion than that of King Tut, the Egyptian boy king. Some say he was murdered, others say he died of this injury or that disease, and still other says that he had multiple genetic disorders that did him in. Truth is that no one knows.

Back on March 2, 2010, I posted a note about King Tut and the fact that researchers had found DNA from malaria organisms and from this concluded that the young king had died from this very common disease. Now a German team of investigators have come up with another theory: Sickle Cell Disease.

In my original blog, I discussed how Tut had bony deformities of his legs, predominantly manifested as some form of clubfoot, as well as a cleft palate and some evidence that he may have had Marfan’s Syndrome. I also pointed out that his murky lineage might have been resolved by this DNA testing. It is entirely possible that his father Akhenaten might have bore the young king with Tut’s aunt, Akhenaten’s own sister.

Now, Christian Timmann and Christian Meyer of the Bernhard Nocht Institute have postulated another cause of death. They believe he might have had sickle cell disease and that this might have led to his death. Sickle cell disease is common in those of African descent and occurs more likely when inbreeding is present. With Tut being the son of a mating between brother and sister, and if each of them carried the sickle cell gene, it would be possible for the young man to have inherited the homozygous or worst form of sickle cell anemia.

In sickle cell disease the abnormal red blood cells often clog up small blood vessels, which in turn can reduce blood and oxygen supply to various portions of the body, including the bones. Sufferers of this disease often end up with bone damage and deformities from this reduced blood supply. Could this explain the young man’s boney abnormalities? Possibly but it would be hard to indict this cause for either a club foot or a cleft palate. Still some of his other musculoskeletal problems could easily be related to sickle cell anemia.

This will require further investigation and indeed studies are underway so hopefully we will have more information down the road.

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