It's not quite a supersoldier serum, but researchers have increased strength and muscle mass in monkeys with a small genetic tweak. And human trials for the technique are just on the horizon.
Muscle disease specialists at Ohio State University have been studying myostatin, the protein that regulates and curbs muscle growth. Their research found that a second protein, follistatin, can bind to myostatin, preventing myostatin from stopping muscle growth. They decided to test whether artificially introducing follistatin to the body would lead to an increase in strength and muscle mass. Using a common cold virus as a carrier, the researchers injected the follistatin gene into the thigh muscles of six macaque monkeys. The monkeys' thigh muscles grew an average of 15 percent as a result of the treatment, and one monkey experienced an incredible 78 percent increase in strength. The researchers reported in Science Translational Medicine that, after 15 months, the increases remained and that the monkeys experienced no visible side effects.
The researchers hope to start clinical trials on humans next year, with an eye toward helping people with degenerative muscular diseases. But for healthy individuals looking to increase their strength, the treatment would come at a cost: immunosuppressant drugs are a necessary component of the therapy.
Gene therapy may be used to treat muscular dystrophy [Times Online via Next Big Future via Reddit]