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Bent on delivering results

Jacob Fox, a 6-year-old who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, demonstrates his 'walking' skills with a sprint for University physical therapist Jamie Marsh, D.P.T. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

University team focuses on bone health to keep boys who have Duchenne muscular dystrophy active for as long as possible

Sometimes, it’s the quietest voice that speaks most resoundingly. So it is with many of the University of Minnesota’s donors, who, without fanfare, step up to support small research projects bent on delivering big results.

Many of these projects aren’t of the headline-yielding variety, but rather they’re studies focused on one specific aspect of a disease. The Frank and Eleanor Maslowski Charitable Trust’s recent $140,000 gift to the University’s Paul and Sheila Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center to fund a small study on bone health in boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a perfect case in point.

Frank J. Provos Jr., who heads the Maslowski trust (funded by his late sister Eleanor and her late husband, Frank), understands the devastation of muscular dystrophy all too well: Both his wife and son died of myotonic dystrophy.

“When the opportunity came up to support this study,” says Provos, “it seemed to be a natural fit for us. I know this would have pleased my sister Eleanor that we are supporting research into a disease that needs all the help it can get.”

Pediatric neurologist Peter Karachunski, M.D., who heads the Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center, is the bone study’s principal investigator.

“The malignant course of DMD is unfortunately very predictable,” he explains. “It occurs only in boys and is typically diagnosed around age 4 or 5. As the disease progresses and kids get weaker, they gradually lose bone mass and are at high risk for developing fractures. Quite often, a fracture can become the factor that moves a boy into a wheelchair permanently.”

So the premise of his study is straightforward: Can whole-body vibration improve bone health and thereby stave off fractures in boys with DMD? It’s not a new question. In earlier studies using mice, Karachunski’s University colleague Dawn Lowe, Ph.D., found that mechanical vibration did improve bone health—with no deleterious effects.

Basically, Karachunski says, the boys simply stand in place for about 10 minutes every day and receive mechanical vibration. If he gets the positive results he hopes for, Karachunski will expand the study to include more boys.

“Bone health is one of the many little things, so to speak, that affects the lives of boys with DMD,” Karachunski says. “As we search for a cure, we also want to improve the quality of their lives, which are still tragically all too short.”

To learn more about how you can support this research, contact Tracy Ketchem of the Minnesota Medical Foundation at 612-625-1906 or t.ketchem@mmf.umn.edu.

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