Cachexia is a term used to describe severe muscle loss in people with cancer or other health conditions. It’s plagued many people with late-stage breast cancer, often made worse by harsh cancer treatments and low energy levels, and researchers believe it contributes to roughly 20 to 30 percent of all breast cancer deaths.
Now, however, researchers at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) have come up with a potential solution. Their work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the inhibition of the proteins Activin A, Activin B, and myostatin—all of which limit muscle growth—could increase muscle mass in patients by 150 percent.
The study, which was conducted on the tibialis anterior muscles of mice, found that the inhibition of Activin A and B alone only increased muscle mass by about 20 percent, while the inhibition of myostatin increased muscle mass by 45 percent. The combination therapy, then, is greater than the sum of its parts at 150 percent muscle mass increase.
Dr. Craig Harrison, one of the lead authors from Monash BDI, had this to say about the findings:
“As a result of the study we can now more precisely regulate—and increase—muscle mass in the setting of disease.”
This is fantastic news for those with muscular dystrophy, AIDS, diabetes, heart or kidney failure, and late-stage cancers, because the only current treatment for muscle wasting is palliative care—essentially just making the patient feel more comfortable as his or her muscles continue to grow weaker. And that’s not a solution at all.
This new combination therapy, however, could prevent muscle wasting in patients with a variety of diseases with a simple injection. If the system proves effective, it could even be used on healthy individuals experiencing a slow decrease in muscle mass as they age.
Further pre-clinical research is currently being done, and researchers hope to move on to clinical trials soon.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?