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Cells injected to fight muscular dystrophy

Published Oct. 16, 2005

Scientists injected donor cells into 9-year-old boy's foot on Thursday, hoping to prove that muscular dystrophy can be fought by supplying correct genetic information. "To my knowledge, this is the first time that any cell has been injected into living tissue with the effort to transmit, fuse and blend with dystrophic cells and restore them to their normal function," said Leon Charash, a medical adviser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

"I think it is the opening salvo to what's going to happen in the 1990s, which I hope is going to be the successful treatment of many genetic disorders."

The procedure, called myoblast transfer, is being tested by scientists at the University of Tennessee-Memphis. They have selected 11 young boys suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy as test subjects.

Sufferers of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that generally affects only boys, rarely live past their 20s and are often confined to wheelchairs for much of their lives.

Sam Looper, a fourth-grader from Pickens, S.C., was the first youngster to take part in the tests. Doctors injected healthy, immature muscle cells called myoblasts, which are more adaptable than mature cells, into a small muscle in one of his feet.

Previous tests have been conducted on laboratory animals.

The University of Tennessee research stems from laboratory work on mice conducted by Peter Law, a professor of neurology who first published his theories on myoblast transfer in 1978.

"It will not only prevent the (abnormal) cells from degenerating, but it also will replenish lost cells," Law said at a news conference to announce the start of testing.

Sam's injected muscle will be examined in 90 days to see if it is growing stronger and if its cells are producing a protein called dystrophin, which is missing in muscle cells of Duchenne sufferers. If his body accepts the cell injection, work will proceed with other test subjects.

If the research is successful, it could lead within a year or two to medical treatments to improve and prolong the lives of muscular dystrophy patients, said Gerald Golden, director of the University of Tennessee's Center for Developmental Disabilities.

In brief . . .

WASHINGTON - Preliminary results of a survey show that many hospitals fail to protect patients' rights when trying to determine whether they are infected with the AIDS virus, researchers said Thursday.

"If you are about to be admitted to a hospital, ask your doctor what he intends to do with the blood he draws, and if he plans to test for AIDS, what he intends to do with the results," said Dr. Charles E. Lewis, who analyzed the results of the survey.

WASHINGTON - Researchers using an intricate manipulation of genes and transplantation of bone marrow have produced a mouse that suffers from a vicious form of human leukemia, giving scientists a new way to test therapies against the disease.

WASHINGTON - A study of airline-cabin environment has found that

passengers and crew face a health risk from radiation from the sun and stars.

The study released Thursday by the Transportation Department advises airlines to schedule cabin crews in ways that will reduce their risk to cosmic radiation.