The muscular system of your body comprises of individual muscle fibres that are tied together with the help of a connective sheath around them. Skeletal muscles vary in size and shape depending on the site at which they are found. And this organizational difference allows you to perform a wide range of physical activities. But at the functional level, several proteins work together to allow execution of these physical tasks. One of them is dystroglycan, a protein widely present in non-muscle and muscle tissues of the body.
The importance of dystroglycan is seen in several rare conditions like Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), where its absence causes progressive degeneration and weakening of skeletal muscles. Individuals with muscular dsytrophy find it extremely hard to perform simple daily tasks like walking, balancing, extending their arms. They have limited range of movement and experience frequent muscle spasms. Some patients may also have speech problems, cognitive decline and impaired vision.
Prof. Steve Winder
Professor Steve Winder, Deputy Head of Department of Biomedical Science, the University of Sheffield (UK) conducted a research primarily focusing on the role of dystroglycan in normal functioning of skeletal muscles and its connection with the development of certain disorders like cancer and muscle dystrophy. Here’s an exclusive interview with Professor Steve Winder.
What inspired you to take up this research?
I have always wanted to be able to apply my research to something, and whilst it is to an extent serendipitous that I ended up working on dystroglycan, it has provided my with a great opportunity to apply our findings in the treatment of muscle wasting diseases such as DMD.
Once you decode the working of dystroglycan and its function in cell adhesion and cellular homeostasis, what are the possible diseases that it could help finding a cure for?
We already know that there are changes in dystroglycan in two classes of diseases, namely adenocarcinoma (cancers of the glandular tissues of the body, lung, breast, prostate etc.) and in muscular dystrophies, the best studied and commonest example being Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
What other applications does this finding have?
This finding also provides us with some clues as to how these diseases develop, giving us potential biomarkers to aid in their detection and prognosis, and new avenues for therapeutic intervention. Our ongoing research is also furthering our general knowledge of how this protein works in normal healthy systems.
Your research also refers to identifying the process of the progression of prostate cancer. Considering so many men die of the disease, could your research be one step closer to finding a cure to prostate cancer? What implications would it have on people with muscular dystrophy?
Ironically it worked the other way around to some extent. While we were originally interested in how dystroglycan worked in cell adhesion in muscle fibres, we used a strain of common cancer cells to test some of our findings. This led to a new discovery in cancer cells as to how dystroglycan worked, which we then also found was applicable in muscular dystrophy. And now we are on an exciting path to developing a new treatment for muscular dystrophy based on an original finding in cancer cells. However, some of these finding do of course also have relevance to prostate cancer, and this in a small way is bringing us closer to understanding prostate cancer which will hopefully one day lead to a treatment.