Medical researchers are hopeful that umbilical cord blood from newborn babies may be the key to a cure for muscular dystrophy (MD).
They have used the stem cells from the umbilical cord to regenerate muscle growth in mice with the aim of eventually doing the same thing for humans.
They studied limb girdle muscular dystrophy and miyoshi myopathy, both muscle wasting diseases, in mice that were dystrophin deficient. They gave them a blood transfusion of cord blood and found that it engrafted into the animal’s muscle as muscle tissue, producing dysferlin and human specific dystrophin.
The study authors wrote, "We conclude that myogenic progenitor cells are present in the human umbilical cord blood (HUCB), that they can disseminate into muscle after intravenous administration, and that they are capable of myogenic differentiation in host muscle."
So what does this mean? The mice with muscular dystrophy grew new muscle after being given the blood transfusion of stem cells. If the same holds true for humans, then in the future we could potentially re-grow our own muscles using stem cell transplantation.
More recent research done in New South Wales in Australia achieved the same muscle growth in mice that were given a blood transfusion of genetically engineered human adult stem cells. These cells were taken from the bone marrow of adults and given a gene to make them resistant to chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy was then used to kill off all diseased tissue and leave room for only the healthy tissue to grow.
This could be useful in treating muscular dystrophy because doctors could destroy the diseased muscle tissue while giving stem cells to promote new, healthy muscle growth. It could also be useful for other conditions such as cancer, as it would stop chemotherapy from killing off all the patient’s healthy cells, an unfortunate and sometimes deadly side-effect of cancer treatment.
Researchers from UNSW’s School of Medical Sciences hope to launch the first human trial of this technique, as a treatment for various types of muscular dystrophy, in the next three or four years.
Sources: Stem Cells, Volume 22 Issue 6, Pages 981 – 993, 1 Nov 2004.
Science Alert, 5th March 2009.
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.