It was reported this week in the journal Stem Cell that a group of researchers from the University of New South Wales, Australia, have made a major breakthrough in the success of regrowing damaged muscle tissue using adult stem cells.
Previous research carried out at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, reported by BioNews in January 2008, outlined the technique of adapting embryonic stem cells (ES cells) from mice to treat the same genetic disorder that causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) - a form of muscular dystrophy in humans.
Then, the lead author of the paper, Professor Peter Gunning, reported that the previous problem facing this type of muscle regeneration was that 'when you introduce stem cells they tend to get out-competed by the locals and they disappear quite quickly'. The success of the UNSW research is that the Australian team have found a method by which the inserted donor stem cells are not killed off by the immune system or the damaged host tissue cells.
The method used to achieve these results is that adult stem cells are given a gene which makes them immune to chemotherapy treatment. Once the stem cells are implanted, chemotherapy is then used to destroy the host cells and allow the donor cells to propagate and create new healthy muscle tissue. Professor Gunning explained: 'What this will do is provide a provide a way in which you can give an advantage to the incoming stem cells so that they can stick around and do what they need to do, which is actually repair the muscle and turn it into healthy muscle'.
The direct focus and hope for such a breakthrough is for muscle wasting diseases such as muscular dystrophy - the term used to describe a variety of hereditary muscle wasting diseases. It has also been suggested that this success could eventually go towards helping people who undergo chemotherapy to treat cancer. 'Chemotherapy can have quite adverse effects on muscles and you can reach a point called cachxia where you've got extraordinary amounts of muscle wasting,' Professor Gunning said, adding: 'To help regrow the muscle you can imagine using this kind of approach'.
The trials using this procedure are still at the pre-clinical stage and the success has all been found in mice. However, researchers are hoping to begin human trials on specific forms of muscular dystrophy within three to five years.