Experimental injections of immature muscle cells strengthened muscle in three boys weakened by muscular dystrophy, showing promise for countering the disabling disease, a study says. "It's very exciting news," said Peter Law of the University of Tennessee-Memphis.
The treatment strengthened a foot muscle in the first three patients to enter the study. Results for eight later patients are not available, Law said.
Scientists hope the new technique will let them overcome progressive muscle weakness and wasting caused by Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the most common and devastating childhood form of dystrophy.
Duchenne, which strikes boys almost exclusively, usually appears between ages 3 and 5. Progressive weakness forces most to use wheelchairs by age 12, and few survive beyond their early 20s.
The disease, caused by a defective gene, strikes at a rate of one per 3,500 male births.
Law discussed his results by telephone from the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in St. Louis.
He cautioned that the experimental treatment needs more study before it could be considered for general use.
Dr. Leon Charash, chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association's medical advisory committee, called the result "a very important preliminary finding."
But Charash stressed that the result must be duplicated in larger muscles, and that scientists must find out whether the improvement will endure.