Muscular dystrophy: could a smartphone monitor the effects of treatment?

Muscular dystrophy: could a smartphone monitor the effects of treatment?

A novel smartphone device could be in the cards for people with muscular dystrophy, potentially helping them to assess the effectiveness of their medication. This is according to a study recently presented at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

Researchers believe patients with muscular dystrophy could one day monitor the effectiveness of medication through handheld devices, such as smartphones or tablets.

Muscular dystrophy is a group of progressive diseases that cause all muscles in the body to weaken. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is the most common form of the condition. It is estimated that 1 in 3,500 boys are born with the disease, which is caused by an inherited gene mutation. Although girls can develop the condition, it is very rare.

There is no cure for muscular dystrophy, but steroids are often prescribed for the condition to slow muscle degeneration. Steroids, however, can cause serious side effects - including weight gain and high blood pressure - particularly if taken in high doses.

As such, doctors recommend that patients with muscular dystrophy only take steroids as they need them. But the researchers of this latest study - including Michael S. Hughes of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA - note that it can be difficult for these patients to monitor the effectiveness of the medication.

In their study, Hughes and colleagues detail an ultrasound technique that they say could be incorporated into smartphones and other handheld devices to allow patients to determine how they are responding to medication.

The researchers explain that healthy muscles consist of cells that are neat and in order, but this is not the case in people with muscular dystrophy; their muscles are pervaded with fat cells, which weakens them.

By using ultrasounds, the team says, they can recognize these differences in muscles. In previous studies, the researchers treated muscular dystrophy mouse models with steroids. They found that by collecting large amounts of data from ultrasound images of the mice throughout treatment and by comparing them with images of healthy mice, they were able to effectively distinguish between healthy, damaged and treated muscles.

But in order to incorporate this process into a small, handheld device, the team needed to find a way to get the same results without having to gather as much data.

Patients 'could take the least amount of steroid for maximum effect'

In this latest study, the researchers applied a mathematical process - called a spline - to their previously gathered data of steroid treatment in muscular dystrophy mouse models. They explain that a spline "smooths" data into average values, and they used this method to analyze one eighth or one sixteenth of their original ultrasound data collection.

The researchers say that by analyzing one sixteenth of the information, they were able to assess the differences between the muscles of the mice that had been treated with steroids and those that had not.

The team notes that for use in humans, the amount of ultrasound data that is collected would need to be adjusted, but that they have shown this is possible in another study.

"The result implies you can monitor drug therapy with cheap point-of-care devices," says Hughes. "We'd like to be able to use low-power handheld instruments, such as a microphone-sized ultrasound that can fit on a smartphone." He adds:

If we can optimize the processing, we can increase the sensitivity and provide real-time performance. People with muscular dystrophy have to take the least amount of steroid that will give them the maximum therapeutic effect. This would let them do that."

In September, reported on a study detailing how researchers were able to trigger muscle repair in mice with muscular dystrophy.

Duchenne & Becker muscular dystrophy - causes, symptoms, treatment & pathology (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Disease