A new study by Illinois State University’s Andrés Vidal-Gadea is breaking ground in the field of muscular dystrophy research.
Published 12 February 2019 in Proceedings of The National Academy of Science of the United States of America, the study lays out the success of Vidal-Gadea’s lab in mirroring symptoms of muscular dystrophy in an animal, the C. elegans worm.
According to Vidal-Gadea, the worms share two-thirds of the same genes as humans and build muscles the same way. The lab managed to grow the worms where the gene was “broken” with muscular dystrophy the same as it is in humans.
Vidal-Gadea, said, “No animal gets as sick as we do, so when you try to study this disease and the animal doesn’t get as sick, you cannot make a lot of progress when studying this disease.”
The innovative study, which is funded through the National Institutes of Health, also pioneered new methods of studying C. elegans in more natural environments, all with the aim of seeing if exercise produces long-term beneficial effects for muscular dystrophy patients.
“Rather than just grown on top of a Petri plate, as is tradition, we could watch them burrow,” said Vidal-Gadea, an assistant professor of molecular neuroethology, who employs the worms in a variety of neurological studies.
Students in the lab altered the exercise regime for worms to mimic different activities. Some C. elegans simply sat near food. Others swam to mirror high-frequency/low impact exercise such as jogging.
While others burrowed through gelatin to give the same effect as weight-lifting. Over time, worms that exercised built up muscles at different levels, but saw no change in the length of life or in the course of the disease.
“Students were able to prevent dystrophic animals from developing signs of sickness. It was in very few cases, and the illness did not go away, but the C. elegans did not show any symptoms of it in their actions,” said Vidal-Gadea.
Vidal-Gadea concluded, “Our next steps will be to explore what chain of events might have led to the reversal.”