A partnership between UW and WSU

Washington Center for Muscle Biology

research . training . discovery . treatment


How can I help? »

Simple, support our work. Public funding for biomedical research has been progressively falling for the last 10 years. In 2002, the National Institutes of Health funded approximately 30% of the research grants submitted while current levels are below 10% for some institutes. Similar trends are also occurring at other federal agencies as science funding has reached unsustainable lows. This means that fewer scientists are being trained, fewer experiments are being performed and fewer treatments are being developed.

You can help by visiting the I WANT TO GIVE page where you can donate directly to one of three funds. You will also find directions on other ways to support our mission and our research. In fact, you can customize your gift to support a specific research program or teaching mission or even the WCMB in general. Interested? Want more information? Please contact the Director, Dr. Dan Rodgers, or send us a comment using the Answerline.

How does gene therapy work? »

Gene therapy is the genetic manipulation of human tissues and cells (see Wikipedia). It ultimately results in the introduction, attenuation or ablation of genes and usually, although not always, requires the use of non-pathogenic viruses to introduce “foreign” DNA. A good example is the adeno-associated virus that co-evolved with humans.  It doesn’t cause disease or initiate an immune response and it can transduce (introduce foreign DNA) into a variety of tissues. A specific type of this virus (AAV6) is particularly adept at transducing skeletal and cardiac muscle and is being used by a variety of WCMB scientists, especially Jeffrey Chamberlain and his associates.  For more information on developing novel gene therapeutics for treating muscular dystrophies, please visit the Chamberlain lab or send us a question/comment using the Answerline.

What type of stem cells are being used in your studies? »

WCMB scientists are using adult stem cells, which are present in adult tissues, and also embryonic stem cells, which were at one time derived from aborted embryos. The two types of cells differ considerably as adult stem cells are already “committed” and can only be used to create certain cell and tissue types. By contrast, embryonic stem cells are “pluripotent” and can be used to create most of the tissues in the human body!

Most stem cells in skeletal muscle will easily differentiate into mature muscle. A similar situation does not occur in cardiac muscle. Thus, developing stem cell therapies for treating both muscle types requires the use of adult as well as embryonic stem cells. For more information, visit the Murry and Yablonka-Reuveni laboratories or use the Answerline.

Do over the counter inhibitors of myostatin actually work? »

No. Several nutritional supplements are advertised to block or neutralize myostatin (an inhibitor of muscle growth). Most of these products – Musclegen (Fareplant, Inc.), MyoStim (Champion Nutrition, Inc.), Myo-Blast (Cytodyne Technologies, Inc.), Anabol X (Pinnacle, Inc.), etc. – are composed of sulfated polysaccharides isolated from a brown marine plant, Cystoseira canariensis. However, a thorough assessment of their reported neutralizing activity (Willoughby, 2004) suggests that they are completely ineffective even when administered at very high doses (1200 mg/day).

This doesn’t mean, however, that myostatin blocking agents don’t exist. In fact, the Rodgers laboratory is developing novel gene therapeutics that will disrupt myostatin action inside the muscle. This reduces the potential for non-specific side effects while still stimulating muscle growth.

Are anabolic steroids (androgens) really dangerous? »

Not an easy question to answer. It’s true that some risks associated with anabolic steroid (e.g. testosterone) use have been greatly exaggerated. However, the unregulated use of these drugs can cause, for example, growth impairment and precocious puberty in children and adolescents. It also substantially increases the risks for developing prostate cancer in men. Nevertheless, these hormones are potent stimulators of skeletal muscle growth and exercise performance, which has led to the development of SARMs – drugs that stimulate the growth of muscle, but not of the prostate. These drugs are still being developed and are for the most part experimental. Pre-clinical studies, however, suggest that they could be used in the near future for treating many different muscle growth disorders.

Washington Center for Muscle Biology, ASLB 124, Department of Animal Sciences, Pullman WA 99164, 509-335-2991, Contact Us
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