UCLA scientists have developed a new strategy to efficiently isolate, mature and transplant skeletal muscle cells created from human pluripotent stem cells, which can produce all cell types of the body. The findings are a major step toward the development of a stem cell replacement therapy for muscle diseases including Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which affects approximately 1 in 5,000 boys in the U.S. and is the most common fatal childhood genetic disease.
The study, which was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, was led by senior author April Pyle, associate professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA.
Using the natural human development process as a guide, researchers developed ways to mature muscle cells in the laboratory to create muscle fibers that restore dystrophin, the protein that is missing in the muscles of boys with Duchenne. Without dystrophin, muscles degenerate and become progressively weaker. Duchenne symptoms usually begin in early childhood; patients gradually lose mobility and typically die from heart or respiratory failure around age 20. There is currently no way to reverse or cure the disease.
For years, scientists have been trying different methods that direct human pluripotent stem cells to generate skeletal muscle stem cells that can function appropriately in living muscle and regenerate dystrophin-producing muscle fibers. However, the new study found that the current methods are inefficient; they produce immature cells that are not appropriate for modeling Duchenne in the laboratory or creating a cell replacement therapy for the disease.