St Vincent’s Hospital breakthrough provides hope for soft-tissue, disease

A MELBOURNE breakthrough has paved the way for cell transplants to grow new muscles and provides hope of overcoming muscular dystrophy and soft-tissue cancers.

The world-first discovery also raises the potential to one day regrow tissue lost in serious accidents or convince the body to develop bigger and stronger muscles.

A team from St Vincent’s Hospital pioneered a method of printing out strands of genetically altered muscle cells combined with a seaweed extract, which they have successfully transplanted into mice and caused them to grow new muscles.

The breakthrough could help people with muscular dystrophy and those who have had muscle loss through diseases such as cancer.

Lead researcher Assoc Prof Robert Kapsa said the discovery was an exciting step, but warned there was a long way to go before it was known if the treatment would be effective in humans.

“We have orientated this work towards things like loss of muscle due to soft-tissue cancers, surgical removal or people who have undergone some sort of trauma, who are able to have a piece of this seaweed substance filled with their own cells, and you can then grow a piece of their muscle back,” he said.

“What we are looking at is more a muscle-building activity where we are trying to actually build muscle that has been ripped away from the bone.

“We will literally be regrowing muscles.”

Muscular Dystrophy Foundation CEO Phil Martin said it was encouraging that research was being carried out, but it was important not to provide false hope.

“The importance of research is that it does give people who have MD a hope for a cure or a reduction in the deteriorating conditions.”

It is estimated that about 20,000 people in Australia have some form of neuromuscular disease, such as muscular dystrophy.

The breakthrough, made in conjunction with the University of Wollongong, builds on a 2001 discovery by the St Vincent’s team when they were able to reverse the faulty gene causing muscular dystrophy.

The earlier discovery was limited because up to 99 per cent of the cells carrying the repaired gene died within a week of being transplanted.

But the latest research has overcome the problem by mixing the genetically corrected muscle cells with alginate — a seaweed extract — as well as growth factors.

It tricks the body into accepting the transplant, so the repaired cells have time to begin growing into muscles.

The breakthrough has not only seen up to half the cells surviving after two months, but has seen them reproducing inside the animals, growing new muscles and repairing damaged sections.

The team hopes to build on breakthroughs such as this with the development of the new Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery, which requires $180 million in government funding to proceed.

Original story posted on the Herald Sun website: