Health News: New Therapies for Muscle-Wasting Diseases

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have isolated a previously unknown protein in muscles that spurs their growth and increases power following resistance exercise. They suggest that artificially raising the protein’s levels might someday help prevent muscle loss caused by cancer, prolonged inactivity among long-term hospital patients, and aging.

In the study, mice given extra doses of the protein gained muscle mass and strength, and rodents with cancer were much less affected by the loss of muscle that often occurs in cancer patients, according to the report in the journal Cell.

The protein is a slight variant of PGC-1 alpha, an important regulator of body metabolism that is turned on by forms of exercise, such as running, that increase muscular endurance rather than size. Several experiments demonstrated the muscle-enhancing effects of the novel protein. Tests showed that the treated mice were 20 percent stronger and more resistant to fatigue than the controls: in addition, they were leaner than their normal counterparts.