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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 00:20 GMT 01:20 UK
Stem cell muscular dystrophy promise
Laboratory worker preparing stem cells
Stem cell researchers helped mice with muscle disease
A treatment which uses "master cells" from the muscles could eventually help patients with the muscle-wasting illness muscular dystrophy.

The experiments - although so far only in mice - restored some muscle strength.

People with muscular dystrophy do not have the ability to make a protein called dystrophin - which is vital to keep muscles working properly.

Doctors used stem cells taken from the muscles of healthy newborn mice.

These were then transplanted into the muscles of mice bred to simulate muscular dystrophy.

Scientists found that the stem cells turned not only into muscle cells, but also into nerve and blood vessel cells.

Growing cells

They were also able to see that the new cells were fully incorporated into the muscle, moving to blood vessels and peripheral nerve tissue.

Because the new cells were from healthy mice, they were able to make dystrophin for the muscle.

Normally, cells from another animal would provoke a strong immune reaction, but because the cells were taken from a newborn animal, this did not happen.


It's necessary to get the genes into muscle cells throughout the body

Professor George Dickson, University of London
Dr John Huard, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said: "Not only did the donor cells continue to grow and make dystrophin in the recipient, but they also apparently failed to provoke an immune response, which would protect them from rejection."

However, the main limitation to the technique is that the stem cells have to be delivered to each muscle in turn, which is impractical for dealing with an illness such as muscular dystrophy, in which the whole muscular system can be affected.

Combination

Dr George Dickson, from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of London, is working on potential gene therapies for muscular dystrophy.

He told BBC News Online: "It's necessary to get the genes into muscle cells throughout the body, as muscular dystrophy affects every muscle in the body.

"My feeling is that progress could be made with a combination of gene therapy and stem cell treatment - in which cells are taken from an individual, treated with gene therapy to replace the faulty gene, and then put back."

The latest research was published in the Journal of Cell Biology.

See also:

20 Mar 01 | Health
14 May 01 | Health
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