Recent research conducted at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston and published in the New England Journal of Medicine has highlighted the important role of specific proteins called sestrins in the regulation of skeletal muscle mass and strength. This new understanding may lead to new possibilities for the treatment of muscle weakness and atrophy. J.A. Jeevendra Martyn, M.D., chief of anesthesiology, and Masao Kaneki, M.D., Ph.D., scientific investigator at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston, have been researching the causes of muscle weakness and atrophy, a common result of burn injuries. While it will take time, we are hopeful that activators of sestrins will be developed as a new drug to prevent and/or treat muscle atrophy. Currently, there is no specific treatment for muscle atrophy other than exercise, which is not a viable option for many patients.
The effects of muscle atrophy
Muscle atrophy can have mental, social and physical health consequences that diminish quality of life and increase the risk of additional diseases, and possibly even death. For example, muscle weakness decreases the ability to independently perform activities of daily living, such as feeding and bathing. In addition, during a critical illness, such as severe burn injury, muscle weakness can result in difficulty breathing. This can lead to dependence on mechanical ventilators, increasing the risk of lung damage and infection. Muscle mass loss also impairs physical development in children. Unfortunately, no specific treatment is currently available for correction of muscle atrophy and weakness.
The next step
Discovering sestrins is the first step. Further research is necessary and important to develop new preventive and/or therapeutic strategies to reverse muscle loss and to improve clinical outcomes of patients with burn injuries.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on the research study, Muscle Atrophy and Sestrins published in the New England Journal of Medicine, visit nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMcibr2003528.