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Visible symptoms: Muscular-dystrophy mouse model's muscles glow like fireflies as they break down

A luminescent lab mouse, genetically engineered to produce the same protein that makes fireflies' tails light up, may accelerate progress in coming up with treatments for muscular dystrophy. This bioengineered mouse also has a genetic defect that, like its counterpart gene defect in people, causes the disease.

The luminescence happens only in damaged muscle tissue, and its intensity is in direct proportion to the amount of damage sustained in that tissue. So each glowing mouse muscle gives researchers an accurate real-time readout of just how much the disease has progressed and where.

It adds up to vastly expedited drug research. Tom Rando, MD, PhD, director of Stanford’s Glenn Laboratories for the Biology of Aging and founding director of Stanford’s Muscular Dystrophy Association Clinic, told me. As I wrote in my release about his new report in the Journal of Clinical Investigation about the Rando lab's invention:

No truly effective treatments for muscular dystrophy exist. “Drug therapies now available for muscular dystrophy can reduce symptoms a bit, but do nothing to prevent or slow disease progression,” said Rando. Testing a drug’s ability to slow or arrest muscular dystrophy in one of the existing mouse models means sacrificing a few of them every couple of weeks and conducting labor-intensive, time-consuming microscopic and biochemical examinations of muscle-tissue samples taken from them, he said.

With an eye to vastly speeding up drug testing while simultaneously dropping its cost, Rando and his colleagues developed the new experimental strain whose glow (you see it through the skin) gives investigators an instantaneous, accurate reflection of what's going on inside a mouse's muscles, well before the degenerative changes could have been observed using standard detection techniques  - without any need to kill the mouse in order to get the results.

Trivia point: The word "muscle" comes from the Latin musculus, meaning "little mouse." More than mere coincidence?

Okay, probably not. But I thought it was worth mentioning.

Previously: Aging research comes of age, Can we reset the aging clock, one cell at a time? and Mouse model of muscular dystrophy points finger at stem cells
Photo by Goldring

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