William Evans, an adjunct professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences & Toxicology, examines the functional and metabolic consequences of physical activity in elderly people, as well as how dietary protein and energy needs change with aging. He has recently received funding from the Duchenne UK organization to continue studying biomarkers of Duchenne muscular distrophy. This press release was adapted from the original published on the Duchenne UK website.
In an unprecedented collaboration designed to speed research advances, Duchenne UK, the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD) have announced a joint grant of $686,500 to Dr. William Evans (principal investigators) at the University of California, Berkeley to use a novel method to measure changes in total muscle mass in Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients through biomarkers in urine samples. These biomarkers may represent a better way to assess new treatments for Duchenne while reducing invasive muscle biopsies or expensive MRI scans that are not available at all clinical trial sites.
Biomarkers are naturally occurring molecules, genes, or signals found in blood and urine that reflect changes in the body. For people with Duchenne, biomarkers can show what is happening in the disease, its progress, how drugs and other therapies are working and also help establish or confirm a diagnosis.
In 2018, Duchenne UK (with Solid Biosciences) made a grant of $162,600 to Duke University and University of California, Berkeley for an initial study of new biomarkers for Duchenne. The initial study was carried out with 10 boys with Duchenne and 9 healthy boys of a similar age. Now, in a joint collaboration, PPMD, MDA and Duchenne UK are supporting the next phase of research, in the hopes of reproducing these results in a larger study consisting of approximately 150 boys with Duchenne.
"We will, for the first time, measure how longitudinal changes in muscle mass of boys and young men with Duchenne muscular dystrophy are associated with changes in mobility and functional capacity," said Evans. "The clinical sites that we will collaborate with are Duke University, University of Utah, and Newcastle University in the United Kingdom."
“The team successfully demonstrated that their method provided an accurate measurement of functional muscle mass in infants, children, and adults," said Emily Crossley, Joint Cofounder and CEO Duchenne UK. “Most important, the study showed that this method worked well in patients with Duchenne. If this study is successful, a completely non-invasive, new method of measuring the amount of functional muscle in boys with Duchenne based on a single urine sample may be made possible – signifying a much faster way to assess new treatments for Duchenne and other muscle-wasting diseases.”
Eric Camino, PPMD’s Director of Research and Clinical Innovation said, “We are excited to be working together with MDA and Duchenne UK to support the development of a novel biomarker. Biomarkers are a key part of unlocking our understanding of how an individual is changing and responding to investigational therapeutics.”
“We know how much families sacrifice to participate in clinical trials. We are happy to join with Duchenne UK and PPMD to support the development of new research tools that may ease that burden while accelerating research,” said Dr. Sharon Hesterlee, Chief Research Officer, MDA. “This may increase the likelihood that individuals with Duchenne participate in clinical trials, and help speed treatments and cures. It would also reduce the need for biopsies and MRI’s of patients in clinical trials."