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Experimental gene therapy treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy offers hope for youngster
Date:2/7/2013

Jacob Rutt is a bright 11-year-old who likes to draw detailed maps in his spare time. But the budding geographer has a hard time with physical skills most children take for granted -- running and climbing trees are beyond him, and even walking can be difficult. He was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy known as Duchenne when he was two years old.

The disease affects about 1 in 3,500 newborns -- mostly boys -- worldwide. It usually becomes apparent in early childhood, as weakened skeletal muscles cause delays in milestones such as sitting and walking. Children usually become wheelchair-dependent during their teens. As heart muscle is increasingly affected, the disease becomes life threatening and many patients die from heart failure in their 20s.

Today, Jacob is one of 51 children participating in a nationwide clinical trial for a new type treatment that could offer help to those suffering from devastating neuromuscular disease. Clinical researchers at UC Davis Medical Center and a handful other research centers around the nation are testing a high-tech drug designed to fix the underlying genetic defect causing the progressive muscular decline that is seen in children with Duchenne.

"This type of genetic therapy is the most exciting treatment approach I have witnessed in my career for Duchenne muscular dystrophy," said Craig McDonald, professor and chair of the Department of Physical Medicine Rehabilitation at UC Davis, as well as principal investigator of the national clinical trial that Jacob is participating in. "We are hopeful that it will delay many of the disease's manifestations and ultimately improve life expectancy for patients."

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by genetic mutations in the gene for the muscle protein dystrophin. The protein is a stabilizer that protects muscle fibers; without enough functional dystrophin, muscles become damaged, causing them to weaken and deteriorate over time.

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Contact: Charles Casey
charles.casey@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu
916-734-9048
University of California - Davis Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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