Muscular Dystrophy Drug

  by  |  April 20th, 2009  |  Published in All, Featured, Health

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Researchers have discovered a potential drug for the most common kind of muscular dystrophy. As this ScienCentral News video explains, they’re using a protein already found in the human body to combat muscle damage.

[If you cannot see the flash video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]

Interviewee: Dean Burkin, University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine
Produced by Joyce Gramza– Edited by Christopher Bergendorff
MD patient footage, courtesy Muscular Dystrophy Association
Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc

"On the Cusp"

It’s been 20 years since the discovery of the gene that causes the most common type of Muscular DystrophyDuchenne MD — and patients are still waiting for a cure.

"The mutation causes muscle fibers to pull away from each other and with progressive use of your muscles in these patients it eventually leads to muscle damage, severe muscle damage," explains Dean Burkin, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine.

Gene therapy to replace the faulty dystrophin gene might be a solution, but Burkin and his colleagues are excited about a simpler and potentially safer approach based on work they are publishing in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This could be an IV drug for the patients if the work in the mouse models that we’ve been using translates to human studies," Burkin says. "That would allow a fair ease of treatment for the patients…. We’ve obviously got to do some safety tests and there’s still a few studies that we need to do. But in the field there are a number of drugs including ours that are being developed.

"These patients, especially, have been waiting a long time for new therapies to come about and I think we’re at the cusp now."

Also on ScienCentral

Burkin explains that the dystrophin protein that’s absent in the muscles of patients with Duchenne acts like a glue to hold muscle fibers together. He and his team were studying a second muscle-glue-like molecule called integrin. "We had shown previously that when you upregulate, or increase, the amount of this integrin, you could alleviate muscle disease in a mouse model for muscular dystrophy," he says. "So in the last few years, we’ve been searching for compounds or molecules that would increase the levels of this integrin protein in muscle. This has led us to the discovery of this protein called laminin-111, which — when we add it to either muscle cells that are grown on a cell culture dish or whether we inject it into the mouse model of muscular dystrophy — led to an increase in this second glue-like molecule."

Study Shocker

According to Burkin, laminin-111 is naturally present around muscle cells but only before birth. The researchers tested it in muscle cell samples from human Duchenne MD patients, and in mice with the disease.

They injected laminin-111 into one leg of the mice, called mdx mice, while injecting a placebo into the other leg as a control. They observed some of the mice as the disease progressed, and also exercised some of the mice on a treadmill, which ordinarily speeds up the progression. They found increased muscle damage in the untreated mice, but not in the treated animals.

"And so this was a significant finding suggesting that laminin-111 was really acting protective in the muscle to prevent it from degeneration," Burkin says.

The researchers also tracked the protein and were surprised to find that despite its large size, injected laminin-111 was picked up by the bloodstream and reached all major muscle groups in the mice, "including the heart and the diaphragm, which are most severely affected in Duchenne patients." This is what Burkin called "the big shocker of the study." That’s really good news because, he says, "These patients succumb eventually to heart failure or breathing difficulties…. So that was a really exciting finding and actually almost unbelievable when we saw that result."

"We don’t know exactly the mechanism of why," he says. "But immunoglobin– antibody molecules—for example, are very large and they obviously make it throughout our entire body… so maybe in hindsight it’s not so surprising."

Systemic delivery has also been a challenge for gene therapy and other approaches. While gene therapy researchers are now working with viruses with much lower cancer-causing risks, any virus— or manmade molecule for that matter— might trigger an immune system reaction.

"Laminin-111 is a naturally occurring protein and so it wouldn’t be recognized as foreign and we could inject it multiple times, theoretically… and hopefully not elicit an immune response," Burkin says.

In addition, laminin-111 could potentially benefit any patient with Duchenne, which is not only the most common type of muscular dystrophy, but also the most common lethal genetic disease among children. By comparison, the most promising drug in the pipeline for DMD patients is probably
PTC124, which is aimed at a type of mutation that only accounts for 10 to 15 percent of cases. "Theoretically, laminin-111 protein therapy should be able to treat all patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy," Burkin says.

Of course, there are still some big "ifs." Since the mice in this study were treated before they began to show symptoms, the next step is to find out if the therapy can halt disease progression after it starts. "Most of the patients who are diagnosed with Duchenne MD, they’re diagnosed at periods between three and five years of age, and muscular dystrophy has already begun," Burkin says.

Funding Gap

The University of Nevada has licensed its patent for laminin-111 to a Boston biotech startup called Prothelia, which is making arrangements to produce a human version of the protein for safety testing and possible clinical trials.

The small company’s founder, Brad Hodges, was a fellow researcher with Burkin at the University of Illinois early in both their careers. Hodges worked at a large biotech company from 2000 until 2007 until he decided that "working at a big company was too safe." He wanted to develop therapies for muscular dystrophy patients. "Large companies typically don’t develop drugs," Hodges says. "They typically buy them from small companies that take the early-stage risks.

"I set myself a goal," he says. "I’m going to get at least one drug approved for muscular dystrophy. I’m going to do it; it needs to be done. Patients deserve it and there’s a critical need." Hodges cashed in his 401k and began "living on the edge."

As he looked around for candidates, he kept abreast of Burkin’s research, and laminin-111 is now the first product in the company’s "pipeline." Hodges credits the Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, or PPMD, for supporting him as he wrote grant proposals under NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research awards program. "I wake up every morning so excited—and a little bit frightened at the same time," Hodges says.

In addition to Burkin’s latest results, Hodges recently received the good news that Prothelia will receive $250 thousand from NIH in June that will support its efforts for six months. He says it will take twice that just to get safety studies started.

But most importantly, he says, "I will have to demonstrate to myself, as well as to everyone else, that this drug is for real."

This research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences early online edition the week of April 20 – 24, 2009; American Journal of Pathology, January 2009, and was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIAMS & NINDS).

Elsewhere on the Web:

Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy

Muscular Dystrophy Association: "Helping Jerry’s Kids"

Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Gene Therapy First to Show Promise Beyond Safety

Update on Clinical Trial of Lab-Engineered molecule for Duchenne treatment

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  1. April says:

    April 21st, 2009 at 6:10 am (#)

    God Bless you Brad Hodges! I pray every day for a cure, even if not in my sons time (he’s 9 now), I pray that it will happen soon enough for other families facing this crisis. Thanks so much for working your gift from God!

  2. viviana ricaurte says:

    April 24th, 2009 at 2:39 pm (#)

    My son de dmd age 1 year, 7 meses of age no symptoms de enfermedad what make for he. Yes to be results fine in animals for o prevent it from degeneration.

  3. laura boghiu says:

    April 24th, 2009 at 5:42 pm (#)

    my brother have 16 years and have some problems whit the muscle. the doctors said is not for the moment the cure for him.

  4. amjid says:

    May 7th, 2009 at 12:57 am (#)

    i am a pateint of muscular dystrophy and i am suffering in this deases from last 17 years but i found no treatment for this. from this forum i would like to ask the sciencetest plz do some this inthis reguard andhelp all md peoples i am on wheelchair and life is very difficult on this espaciely in pakistan .i repeat plz do some thing for us.

  5. Kobe's mom says:

    May 12th, 2009 at 7:38 am (#)

    My son will be 9 at the end of this month. I am thankful for the research groups are doing. My question is how to get in on clinical trials…My prayers are with you all, especially Amjid in Pakistan.
    Fayetteville, AR, USA

  6. martha says:

    May 13th, 2009 at 2:40 pm (#)

    My bother died 16 years ago as a result of DMD, but now there is more hope for my son of 9years old. i really hope this does it. GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!

  7. JP says:

    May 14th, 2009 at 12:29 am (#)

    Come on lets keep up the faith, please hurry up researchers one day coul mena the life of one or more kids…laminin might be the answer.

    thanks for teh good work

  8. David Birkaia says:

    May 20th, 2009 at 12:17 am (#)

    hello all. My brother has Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystropy. He is so old man, 53 years old. and there are no any treatments at the moment. If anyone knows some news about treatments or hopes to cure this disease, pls contact to me.

  9. HelpSAM Blog » Blog Archive » Research says:

    August 31st, 2009 at 7:54 am (#)

    [...] [...]

  10. Barbu Geta says:

    September 13th, 2009 at 12:17 pm (#)

    Va rog sa-mi raspunde-ti cind putem beneficia de acest tratament avem un copilde 9 ani bolnav de dmd duplicatie ezon 45
    Cu mult respect
    Barbu Geta

  11. ROOBINA says:

    October 18th, 2009 at 3:01 pm (#)

    Im a 26 FEMALE with MD most likley with dmd though its more common in boys i have most symtoms. doctors have sid it’s rare but have not told ME whitch MD i fall in. I have been pretty much stable up until i was 19 when i gaind 5-10lbs and had less exercise i weakend a bit. I now have 3 children and though i gained weight i was still up and walking and had them normal. I do not have therapy or a doctor that checks up on me but i have noticed that i have been getting weaker. I went to a doctor couple of yrs ago and they said that then tryed to find what type MD i had but couldn’t find in the blood sample he got and said it’s $1000 to do a better test cause medical doesnt pay 4it. If there might be a cure out there for me please send me info.

  12. judit says:

    October 29th, 2009 at 5:33 pm (#)

    hi, it’s hard to find a way to cure a hard desease, which takes many people especially children, but please do it for all those who suffer and has one dream…to run oneday, to have a walk, or to do what all healthy people are doing…thank you and God Bless You!

  13. Ali says:

    January 23rd, 2010 at 2:41 pm (#)

    You can find more information on Muscular Dystrophy in:
    This site contains information On Pregnancy Diseases And Genetic Testing.

  14. Susan says:

    March 3rd, 2010 at 1:32 pm (#)

    Hi – My nephew in AZ has Duchenne MD and is progressing very rapidly. He will turn 18 this month. Any info. or
    help you can provide would be appreciated. (I live in CO). I am very upset with MDA as they seem to have done very little over 30 yrs. with all the “research” and little “action” and they have over $166 MILLION IN ASSETS. My heart goes out to Tyler. Thank you.

  15. wainaina says:

    March 29th, 2010 at 5:32 am (#)

    Hi.It is surely proper to express our gratitude to the doctors,the research community and the organisations like PPMD for puting up a good fight against MD;to those parents and families who have dedicated their resources,material and otherwise,in this struggle to contain the ravages of MD.My son was diagnosed with MD recently and i am finding ample consolation in the fact that there are good people who have put in so much in this endeavor in the full knowledge that sons of many a family will live as a result of these efforts.What u r doing,or have been doing,holds hope for many families and their sons all over the world.You are our sacred warriors in this struggle,and our prayers are with you.Wainaina,Nairobi,Kenya,East Africa.

  16. Hasan says:

    June 13th, 2010 at 1:24 am (#)

    We are still waiting for the better cure and treatment for this disease.I have LGMD and it was diagnosed in 2006.
    we hope that we could find and will be able to spend normal soon.

  17. dr chintan says:

    July 2nd, 2010 at 11:13 am (#)

    hi i have seen your video now i have my cosin whos has muscular dystrophy i& i want to find out where this laminin 111 drug can be found please do reply fast

  18. Amit says:

    April 17th, 2011 at 7:27 pm (#)


    Please tell me where to get this drug on urgent basis. My friend need it. Kindly let me know, I am based in San Francisco and can fly to any destination to get it.

    May god bless you.

    Warm Regards,

  19. s.m.ahmed says:

    June 30th, 2011 at 12:54 am (#)

    It is June-2011 now; It will be great if the status of development of Laminin-111 drug is known. May be the researchers (@ Nevada) or Dr. Hodges can can leave the INFO at MDA (USA) which where all the poor MD should looks upto.

    Unfortunate father of LGMD-2A patient

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