A group of researchers from Richland, Washington-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory recently conducted a study that made use of an ultrasound technique that could be synced with smartphones to allow muscular dystrophy patients to monitor their response to medication. Michael S. Hughes is the lead investigator on the research project.
Today, there is no known cure for muscular dystrophy. One of the most common components of a treatment regimen meant to slow disease progression are the use of steroids, which help slow degeneration. Steroids, however, are known to cause a number of serious side effects such as weight gain and increased blood pressure, especially when administered long-term and in high doses. This necessitates physicians to advise MD patients to take them only when needed, which prompts the need for self-monitoring.
Hughes and his colleagues explained that patients with MD have an altered muscle composition, in that their muscles are abnormally permeated with fat cells that weaken them. Through a modified ultrasound technique, these alterations in muscle composition can be seen and easily compared with healthy or treated muscle tissue, which was made possible in previous studies, wherein the researchers treated MD in mice with steroids and collected significant amounts of data from ultrasound images throughout the treatment. In order to efficiently transmit multiple ultrasound information to a handheld device, the researchers employed a process called “spline,” which arranges series of data into average values.
This study suggests it is possible for a patient with muscular dystrophy to remotely, independently, and cost-effectively monitor their response to treatment. What Hughes and his team are working on now is a low-power ultrasound smartphone accessory.
“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,” said Hughes. “This would let them do that.”
Muscular dystrophy is an incurable, oftentimes fatal progressive disease that causes muscle wasting and severe physical impairment. One of the most common types is Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), which is estimated to affect 1 out of every 3,500 boys.