New research offers hope for Duchenne muscular dystrophy sufferers

‘Chimeric cells’ could offer children living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy a ray of hope.

Researchers from the University of Illinois, Chicago, have found that muscle function in those living with the condition could be significantly improved via the implanting of ‘chimeric cells’.

The ‘chimeric cells’, made up of a fusion of cells from a normal human muscle and from the muscle of a Duchenne’s sufferer, were tested on a mouse model of the disease, resulting in the positive findings.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a fatal form of the muscle wasting disease, for which there is no known cure. Treatment to alleviate the symptoms and improve the sufferer’s quality of life is therefore the only course of action presently available. It affects approximately 1 in every 2,400 boys.

The research found that the ‘chimeric cells’ acted like normal cells and boosted dystrophin levels – which keeps muscle cells intact and is lacking in muscular dystrophy patients – by 37 per cent, continuing to produce the protein for 30 days.

Leading the study, Dr Maria Siemionow, professor of orthopaedic surgery at the UIC College of Medicine, said: “Our results point to the long-term survival of these cells and helps establish the use of chimeric cells as a novel promising potential therapy for patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

“This is not conventional stem cell therapy. We are restoring dystrophin in such a way that the recipient won’t need to take anti-rejection therapy because the implanted chimeric cells can evade the recipient’s immune system. In traditional stem cell therapy, the implanted cells are 100 percent ‘other’ and anti-rejection medicine is needed in order to prevent the host immune system from destroying those foreign cells.”

Muscle function tests on the mice used as part of the research recorded improvements in excess of 60 per cent. The improvements for tests on muscle fatigue tolerance were more than 20 per cent.

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