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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Muscle Bound: Gene Therapy Significantly Accelerates Healing Of Damaged Skeletal Muscle In Experimental Model

BALTIMORE, June 4, 2006 University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers have successfully used gene therapy to accelerate muscle regeneration in experimental animals with muscle damage, suggesting this technique may be a novel and effective approach for improving skeletal muscle healing, particularly for serious sports-related injuries. These findings are being presented at the American Society of Gene Therapy annual meeting in Baltimore, May 31 to June 4.

Skeletal muscle injuries are the most common injuries encountered in sports medicine. Although such injuries can heal spontaneously, scar tissue formation, or fibrosis, can significantly impede this process, resulting in incomplete functional recovery. Of particular concern are top athletes, who, when injured, need to recover fully as quickly as possible.

In this study, the Pitt researchers injected mice with a gene therapy vector containing myostatin propeptide—a protein that blocks the activity of the muscle-growth inhibitor myostatin—three weeks prior to experimentally damaging the mice’s skeletal muscles. Four weeks after skeletal muscle injury, the investigators observed an enhancement of muscle regeneration in the gene-therapy treated mice compared to the non-gene-therapy treated control mice. There also was significantly less fibrous scar tissue in the skeletal muscle of the gene-therapy treated mice compared to the control mice.

According to corresponding author Johnny Huard, Ph.D., the Henry J. Mankin Endowed Chair and Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Director of the Stem Cell Research Center of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, this approach offers a significant, long-lasting method for treating serious, sports-related muscle injuries.

"Based on our previous studies, we expect that gene-therapy treated cells will continue to overproduce myostatin propeptide for at least two years. Since the remodeling phase of skeletal muscle healing is a long-term process, we believe that prolonged expression of myostatin propeptide will continue to contribute to recovery of injured skeletal muscle by inducing an increase in muscle mass and minimizing fibrosis. This could significantly reduce the amount of time an athlete needs to recover and result in a more complete recovery,” he explained.

Others involved in this study include, Jinhong Zhu, M.D., Yong Li, M.D., Ph.D., of the Growth and Development Laboratory, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; and Chunping Qiao, M.D., and Xiao Xiao, M.D., Ph.D., of the Molecular Therapies Laboratory, department of orthopaedic surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

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