A team of UBC researchers have co-created a drug that may overcome a hurdle stopping stem cell therapies from successfully treating muscle dystrophy. The degenerative disease drastically decreases life expectancy by weakening the muscles and tissues in one of every 5,000 men.


Stem cells may hold the key to treating muscle dystrophy because of their ability to differentiateor transform into new cells that form into specialized tissues in the body.

But scientists struggled to suss out a treatment, due to stem cells differentiating too quickly once isolated in a lab dish, morphing into muscle fibres. Since they’re no longer muscle stem cells, they stop dividing and fail to transplant correctly.

“All our stem cells were turning into ‘bread’ and we really needed them to stay as ‘flour’ so they could continue to replicate”, explains Dr. Fabio Rossi.

The cell replication process Rossi refers to is responsible for creating enough cells to transplant and regenerate tissue effectively.


The researchers isolated Setd7a protein that helps facilitate a stem cell’s growth and maturation into muscle fibers. They used a drug to inhibit the Setd7 protein, preventing rapid stem cell differentiation, helping the stem cells continue to divide.

They implanted these stem cells into the hind legs of mice affected by muscular dystrophy. The results showed that the cells regenerated the tissue, and improved the strength of the muscle.

The discovery enhances the healing potential of muscle stem cells, encouraging them to trigger tissue regeneration, and improve muscle function when transplanted into damaged tissue.


Since stem cell therapies are relatively new in the world of medicine, there will no doubt be road blocks during research. But impenetrable stopping forces can be overcome by creative solutions, such as inhibiting the Setd7 protein to prevent a stem cell’s expedited maturation process.

As trials advance forward, we’re continually amazed by the inventiveness and resourcefulness of ambitious stem cell researchers.

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