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The Sturdier Sex?: Study by Pittsburgh Scientists Finds Female Stem,Cells Work Better

boys. Patients with DMD lack dystrophin, a protein that gives muscle cells structure. Using an animal model of the disease, his laboratory is using stem cells to deliver dystrophin to muscles.

In this study, Dr. Huard's team injected female and male muscle-derived stem cells into dystrophic mice and then measured the cells' ability to regenerate dystrophin-expressing muscle fibers.

They then calculated the regeneration index (RI) -- the ratio of dystrophin-positive fibers per 100,000 donor cells. Only one of the 10 male populations of implanted stem cells had an RI over 200. In contrast, 40 percent of the female stem cell populations had an RI higher than 200, and 60 percent of the female populations of stem cells had an RI higher than the mean RI of the male cells (95).

This difference may arise from innate sex-related differences in the cells' stress responses, according to Dr. Deasy, an assistant professor in the Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and School of Engineering, respectively.

The investigators examined several aspects of stem cell behavior. They screened for differences in thousands of genes, and they also looked for differences related to estrogen. In many ways the male and female stem cells were similar, Dr. Deasy said.

"The major difference was what we observed after exposing the cells to stress or after cell transplantation in the animals that have muscular dystrophy. Transplantation of female cells leads to a much more significant level of skeletal muscle regeneration," she said. "The male cells exhibited increased differentiation after exposure to oxidative stress, which may lead to cell depletion and a proliferative advantage for female cells after cell transplantation."

Dr. Huard is an internationally recognized cell biologist conducting laboratory research into the therapeutic use of stem cells to treat a variety of musculoskeletal
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