Douglas Millay, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, was awarded an MDA development grant totaling $180,000 over a period of three years to study the process of myoblast fusion.
Mature muscle fibers form from the fusion of individual cells, called myoblasts. Myoblast fusion occurs both during development and during repair of muscle in later life. Because it is such a central process in muscle repair, understanding myoblast fusion is important for understanding how muscles in muscular dystrophies first repair themselves, and then ultimately exhaust their self-repair ability.
Millay is studying a gene called myomaker, which is an essential component for myoblast fusion, helping to control the timing and location of the fusion process. “Using mouse models and primary muscle cells, we will study the function of this protein in muscular dystrophy disease progression,” he says. “These studies will reveal general mechanisms of mammalian myoblast fusion, expanding our knowledge of this process and identifying avenues for future therapeutic intervention.”
That intervention might take the form of cell-based therapies, in which myoblasts are transplanted into diseased muscle. While this approach has been tried unsuccessfully in the past, a better understanding of the molecules directly mediating myoblast fusion may increase the chances of success, Millay says.
Funding for this MDA grant began August 1, 2013.