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Embryonic Stem Cells Create Healthy Muscle in Mice
Date:1/20/2008

Scientific feat could lead to new treatment for muscular dystrophy, experts say

SUNDAY, Jan. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have coaxed embryonic mouse stem cells to grow into healthy muscle tissue, in a feat that creates new possibilities for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

DMD is the most common of nine types of muscular dystrophy, which is characterized by a lack of the protein dystrophin in voluntary muscles, such as those in the arms and legs. Dystrophin plays a key role in building and repairing muscle; without it, muscles deteriorate and lose function.

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center team focused on developing embryonic stem cells containing the gene Pax3, which triggers cells to grow into muscle tissue that will produce dystrophin.

"Embryonic stem cells can make every tissue in the body. We instructed these cells to make more skeletal muscle, and from a crowd of cells," explained study author Rita Perlingeiro. "We found a way to pull out only the ones destined to make muscle. These two steps combined resulted in a cell population capable of making muscle in a mouse with muscular dystrophy and, very importantly, the new muscle is stronger."

This is one of the few studies to test the ability of embryonic stem cells to grow in adult muscle tissue, the researchers added. The method they used also managed to avoid the risk of tumor formation in the mice.

One expert lauded the study, which appears in the Jan. 20 online issue of Nature Medicine, as a strong first step.

"By way of experiments done with mice, the paper offers a compelling 'proof of principle,' that embryonic stem cells can be turned into muscle-producing cells in the laboratory and used to deliver healthy muscle to people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy," said Paul Muhlrad, research program coordinator for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

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