Myostatin is a critical gene in the human body that plays a regulatory role in many processes, including the deposition of fatty tissue. It also blocks muscle growth. Animals or humans born without the gene show freakish muscular growth and the ability to perform
athletic feats that take their peers years of dedication and training.
Of course all that comes at a price. Muscle building mandates a diet with more protein, which can put a stress on organs like the kidneys (as well as placing additional physical stress on them). Those with an unusually high amount of muscle have been shown to live to shorter lifespans in some studies, potentially due to increased rates of organ failure.
Undeterred, researchers are pushing ahead to look at ways to block myostatin and make us into supermen (and women). Researchers at the National Children’s Hospital (NCH) and Ohio State University have demonstrated how gene therapy can be used to selectively upregulate follistatin in muscles according to Singularity Hub. Fullistatin blocks myostatin, allowing for tremendous gains. The macaque monkeys involved in the trial were endowed with super biceps.
The center is now filing the preliminary paperwork to start human trials. They insist that their goal is not to make super people, but rather to help children and the elderly with conditions that cause muscular dystrophy. Using the blockers, children with Muscular Dystrophy (MD), a disease that frequently leads to an early death, could develop musculature on par, or even superior to their peers, raising their chance of survival.
In the elderly, the therapy could be used to combat
conditions that cause loss of musculature or muscle control. This could lead to less accidents and improved energy.
As mentioned, dangers of Myostatin blocking include an increased rate of organ failure, possible effects on smooth muscle tissue, and damage to tendons and ligaments. The briefer and more selective application of the new gene therapy may somewhat reduce the risk of the first two problems, but the long term effects on connective tissue health remain to be seen.
As for the monkeys, after receiving the treatment they continued to add muscle for close to 12 months. Their biceps increased 15 percent in circumference. And one of the test subjects demonstrated an incredible 78 percent increase in leg muscle strength when undergoing electrical stimulation. Best of all, the monkeys showed no adverse affects -- their organs seemed in perfect health.
So how far could myostatin blocking take us? Well, to answer that, just look at the story of Liam Hoekstra, a toddler from Roosevelt, Michigan, who was born without the myostatin gene. Despite having to overcome some tough birth defects, the youngster could stand up fully after only two days. Within months the toddler was doing pull-ups, inverted sit-ups, Olympics-ready iron crosses, and even punching holes in his parents walls when he threw fits.
If myostatin therapies hit the mainstream to treat age associated or genetic muscular atrophy, it's hard to believe that some won't use them for such athletic gains. However, we are approaching a point where some of the dangers may be minimized. The fields of organ engineering and implantation are advancing rapidly. Today, organs like the bladder have been successfully grown and implanted into humans. So if our super muscles wear out our body, we may be able to pop in some replacements, much like making a pit stop on the race track.
The real question is -- how will these advancements effect society? From those with super-vision via artificial lenses, to myostatin hulking behemoths, where will we draw the line in terms of athletic competition and morality. That's an intriguing question that will yet be debated by society.