Stem Cell "Breakthrough": Generating Muscle

By: CBS News Email
By: CBS News Email

Some San Antonio researchers are calling it a "breakthrough."
They've discovered a way to "turn on" specific stem cells in mice to generate muscles.
It's information that could one day lead to new drugs to treat everything from cancer to muscular dystrophy to regular old aging.
At San Antonio's Greehey Children's Cancer Research Institute, eight scientists have spent the last two years tweaking muscle stem cells.
By altering a gene, the team was able to light up these satellite cells and watch them divide.
The subjects were mice, and a genetic modification led to proliferation of these important muscle builders.
"By putting a switch in, we could pick the time and the place during the animal's life, during the mouse's life, to turn on mutations," explained Dr. Charles Keller, a U.T. Health Science Center childhood cancer researcher.
"We want to be able to accelerate it for short periods of time, turn it off, let those stem cells develop into normal muscle that can very actively contract and be very functional."
The findings are published in the March edition of the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Dr. Keller specializes in children's muscle cancers, but he says the implications of tweaking muscle stem cells reach far beyond his specialty.
The goal is to create medication that could mimic the genetic change and help with repair of injured muscles, muscular dystrophy, and the preservation and rejuvenation of aging muscle.
The idea is to harness the body's own ability to regenerate muscle cells.
"You can take something like childhood cancer, which is relatively rare," Keller said, "and it will lead you down a path that helps you discover things that are much more relevant to people beyond just children with cancer."
The study was, in part, tax dollars at work in the form of funding from the National Cancer Institute.
Additional money came from the Texas tobacco settlement fund.

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