As the name suggests, muscle disorders are disorders of the body’s muscles. These muscle disorders may have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and negatively impacting their ability to engage in normal day-to-day activities. Traditionally, treatment options for these muscle disorders have been relatively limited. However, scientific advances are changing the face of treatment. Stem cell therapy which has already been used to successfully treat a wide variety of orthopedic problems, as well as various blood cancers, is now being extended to muscle disorders. Definitive statistics do not exist for the number of people impacted by disorders, such as muscular dystrophy. But, this treatment potentially offers hope to millions of people in the United States and around the world.
What Are Muscle Disorders?
Muscle disorders are diseases or conditions that can affect the body’s muscles. These disorders can cause symptoms such as muscle pain and weakness, and in severe situations it can even lead to paralysis. Muscle disorders can happen for a variety of reasons. These disorders can be the result of a traumatic injury; they can also be caused by an infection or other illness. And, many of the most serious muscle disorders are genetic in nature, for example, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a catastrophic form of muscular dystrophy that results from a genetic mutation on the X-chromosome. It almost exclusively impacts boys and is diagnosed at a young age. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy leads to a rapid and debilitating degeneration in the body’s muscles, and, until recently, it led to a very early death of impacted patients. Because of improvements in medical care, many patients now lead longer and relatively healthier lives.
But, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is still fatal. And, doctors continue to look for ways to treat it.
Muscle Disorders and Stem Cell Treatment
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy happens because the patient is unable to produce dystrophin, a protein. Dystrophin, in general, protects muscles from being damaged. Without this protective protein, muscles become damaged and atrophy; and, the body is unable to protect itself.
Recognizing and understanding the mechanism via which Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy impacts the patient’s muscles and body, researchers have begun to look at different ways to potentially use stem cell therapy to more effectively treat it.
These researchers have focused on two very different potential approaches for using stem cells. One approach focuses on building new healthy muscle fibers. These new muscle fibers would replace the previous muscle fibers that lacked dystrophin. Questions still remain about how these muscle fibers would be delivered to the body. But, many scientists are extremely optimistic about the promises that this approach offers.
The Other Approach
The second stem cell approach is dramatically different. This approach targets the reduction of inflammation in the human body. Research shows that the patient often has significant degrees of inflammation in his body, and this inflammation seems to speed up the rate at which the muscles are destroyed. If inflammation could be reduced, then it could potentially slow down the rate at which muscle cells and fiber were destroyed. Some stem cells have shown promise in fighting inflammation, although more research still needs to be carried out. (If stem cells do indeed fight inflammation, then similar approaches could be extended to treating autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis that are also associated with high levels of inflammation).
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The Need For More Insight on Muscle Disorders
Stem cell therapy and stem cell research could also be helpful in other ways. This research may help scientists develop a better understanding of how healthy muscle fibers act. If this is understood, then it could potentially offer better insight into what goes wrong in muscle disorders, such as muscular dystrophy. Understanding the disease process could provide scientists with the key to developing meaningful treatment options.
It is important to note that even though significantly more research needs to be carried out into these questions, this is not an entirely new topic of research. As early as 2008, researchers were looking into how stem cell therapy could potentially be an effective treatment tool for muscle disorders. Much of this early research seemed to focus on looking at animal studies, and particularly animal studies that explored treatments for muscular dystrophy. Although muscular dystrophy has been a popular area for research, which is natural given the number of people who are impacted and the negative effects that it may have on so many lives, it is also important to recognize that muscular dystrophy is only one of many forms of muscle disorders. And, other muscle disorders may also be treatable with stem cell therapy. Again, more research is necessary.
Stem cell therapy offers hope and new opportunities to many people who had previously given up hope, because traditional therapy did not provide them with any real answers. Researchers and medical professionals around the world continue to push the envelope of what is feasible. Each month seems to see a wide range of new innovations and promising studies. Many of these innovations and breakthroughs have been in specific medical spheres. But, treatment is being extended into new areas, such as treating muscle disorders that impact a person’s muscles and their day-to-day functioning. Often, the cause of muscle disorders is genetic; the most common type of genetic muscular disorder is muscular dystrophy. And, one form of muscular dystrophy is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Until recently, most people with Duchenne’s lived tragically short lives and the quality of their life was often extremely low. Medical breakthroughs have changed this. But, there is still no cure for Duchenne’s. Researchers are looking to change this, investigating two potential ways that stem cells could positively impact the lives of people with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. One area of research is looking at how stem cells could be used to create healthy muscle fibers that could replace the body’s diseased muscle fibers (that lack dystrophin). The second line of research, on the other hand, looks at determining if stem cells could be used to reduce inflammation in the patient’s body. Inflammation seems to dramatically increase the rate at which a patient’s muscles atrophy and break down. If inflammation could be reduced, then the muscles may be able to stay healthier for a longer period of time. And, this would undoubtedly be a good thing.
Ideally, this research into Duchenne’s will be extensible to other muscle disorders.
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