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Stem Cells May Help Muscle Disease

September 23, 1999

BOSTON (AP) _ Researchers have found that bone marrow transplants might be a new way to restore strength to patients with muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting diseases.

In very preliminary experiments, scientists at Children’s Hospital infused mice weakened with muscular dystrophy with bone marrow stem cells taken from healthy donor mice.

The stem cells generated new bone marrow and blood cells in the sick mice, whose own bone marrow had been destroyed with radiation. The stem cells also generated healthy, mature muscle cells that traveled through the blood stream to ravaged skeletal muscles and to a certain extent, restored them.

If the immature bone marrow stem cells can generate muscle cells, they also might prove to be a source of repair cells for other kinds of tissues in the body, said scientists led by Richard Mulligan and Louis Kunkel of Children’s and Harvard Medical School.

The findings are important because ``in adult tissues we may have a reservoir of stem cells that has more potential than we think″ to differentiate into other types of cells, said Emanuela Gussoni, a biologist in Kunkel’s lab and lead author of the paper in today’s issue of the journal Nature.

In a related experiment, Gussoni and her colleagues isolated muscle stem cells from mice and demonstrated they could generate adult muscle cells as well as bone marrow cells.

Dr. Leon Charash, chairman of the medical advisory committee of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, told The Boston Globe that the findings were ``exciting″ because ``the work may eventually lead to an unanticipated treatment approach for all the muscles ravaged by neuromuscular disease.″

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