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RIC Stem-Cell Breakthroughs Promise Novel Treatments for Cerebral Palsy and Related Conditions

Although the cause of Cerebral Palsy (CP) – the most common movement disorder in children, affecting approximately 750,000 people in the United States – remains a mystery, RIC researchers are at the forefront of those working to understand, treat — and ultimately cure — this life-long neurological disorder.

“In a 2013 study, we made the startling observation that the satellite cell population in children with muscle contractures had dropped,” said Rick Lieber, PhD and chief scientific officer. (Satellite cells are the resident skeletal muscle stem cells, and are essential for growth, repair and regeneration of muscle tissue.)

“This revelation totally changed my mind about muscle functioning,” he explained. “CP is caused by a brain injury; it’s a central nervous system problem. How does a brain injury cause abnormality in muscle stem-cell population? If we could answer that question, not only would it help people with CP, but it would also help others with a host of central nervous system disorders.”

Dr. Lieber and his team took a first step toward answering that question in a new, breakthrough study, the findings from which were recently published in Muscle & Nerve. Based on their previous findings that satellite cells are decreased in CP contractures, his research team used a transgenic mouse model to “artificially” decrease stem cell number by 60 percent (to mimic the lowered count in children with CP), and then tested whether contractures would form.

“After artificially decreasing stem cell number in mice, contractures did form,” said Dr. Lieber. “This discovery suggests that not only are stem cells likely decreased in human muscle contractures, but they may also be part of the ‘cause’ of contractures. Until now, there was no animal model of human muscle contracture, which greatly inhibited our ability to develop novel treatments.”

To read more about this fascinating study and its potential, click here.