University of Alberta researchers are looking at exercise as a new way to slow the degenerative processes of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Dr. Kelvin Jones, a recipient of this year's ALS Canada Discovery Grant, has been pioneering research in this field for four years, using mice genetically altered to present familial ALS. He's found that exercise has a positive impact on the mice, slowing the disease significantly.
"Exercise in mice showed a beneficial effect," said Jones, a professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. "We have been looking at the rate of denervation of the muscles to see how quickly the disease progresses and the muscles weaken. Findings have been very encouraging."
Jones implanted a tiny pacemaker-like device into the transgenic mice, stimulating the fast-twitch - muscles that fatigue easily. These are muscles typically used for short bursts of speed, such as a sprinter would use, but a marathon runner is more likely to have more slow-twitch muscles, which are well-vascularized and with more myoglobin (an oxygen-carrying protein found in the muscles of most mammals) and designed for endurance.
What he found was that by stimulating the fast-twitch muscles (in essence exercising them passively without the mouse running on a treadmill or wheel) the fast-twitch muscles changed their characteristics, converting to slow-twitch muscles, which are built for endurance.
It was this transformation in the muscles that slowed the progression of ALS in the transgenic mice.
Fast-twitch muscles are more vulnerable to degeneration in ALS patients, therefore, says Jones, "If you have ALS, the more of the fast-twitch muscle fibre you have, based on the mouse studies, the quicker the symptoms (of ALS) come on.
"What we think is that if we try to build more of the slow-twitch muscle fibre in ALS patients it would slow the progression of the disease."
|Contact: Jane Hurly|
University of Alberta - Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation