Using embryonic stem cells from mice, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers have prompted the growth of healthy, functioning muscle cells in mice afflicted with a human model of muscular dystrophy. This is the first time transplanted embryonic stem cells have been shown to restore function to defective muscles in a model of muscular dystrophy.

The mice used in the study lacked dystrophin, the same protein that humans with the disease are missing. The study was headed by Dr. Rita Perlingeiro, assistant professor of developmental biology and molecular biology. The researchers focused on manipulating genes that are active in the initial stages as embryonic stem cells start to develop into more specialized cells. The selection of cells was injected into the animals' hind-limb muscles.

After a month, fluorescent dyes showed that the cells had deeply penetrated the muscle, indicating growth and reproduction. Tests showed that the treated muscles were stronger than those in untreated mice lacking dystrophin. Treated mice also had improved coordination - Dr. Perlingeiro explains this is significant because "it shows the embryonic stem cells have benefited the animal's quality of life, not simply caused an isolated growth with no overall improvement."

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