The Italian Almanac


Italian News - June 27

A little village perched on a mountainside in the Italian Alps could help researchers identify a gene which protects people from diabetes and high blood pressure. Extensive tests have shown that the 402 inhabitants of Stoccareddo, near Asiago in the northeastern region, seem to have an immunity to these ailments. This fact, coupled with records showing centuries of marriages exclusively within the isolated community, has led a group of medical researchers to suspect the presence of a protective gene.

"It seems a likely explanation. These people seem to have the basic conditions for certain diseases but none of the consequences," said Anna Baschirotto, joint founder of the Baschirotto Foundation which is carrying out the research. Two years of analyses have discovered that many residents have such high blood sugar levels that diabetes should theoretically be a widespread problem. But no one has it. Likewise, many register abnormally high levels of triglycerides, fatty molecules which tend to go hand in hand with high blood pressure. But again, no one has this problem or any of its usual cardiovascular consequences.

The hope is that by comparing DNA from Stoccareddo's people with that of other people who have certain diseases it will be possible to identify whatever is providing protection. If it is a gene, this could form the basis for a new pharmaceutical. Baschirotto said at least two years' work are needed before any conclusions can be drawn. Among other things, researchers need to rule out other factors, such as lifestyle and the environment.

The air is clean in Stoccareddo and the simple rural lifestyle which only now is beginning to change has tended to favour relatively stress-free lives for its inhabitants. But the gene theory appears to be supported by Stoccareddo's history. Local historians say the villagers are practically all descendants of one man, apparently a Dane, who founded the community in the 12th century.

In fact, even today, 380 of the 402 inhabitants have the same surname, Bau.