Touching Lives - December 2003
New antibody can track operation's success
Limb length discrepancy can have various causes. For example, some babies are born with the abnormality, or traumatic injury and bone infections can affect normal bone growth and result in discrepancy. If untreated, posture and mobility is adversely affected and sufferers may have to rely on crutches, wheelchairs or callipers.
In the UK, between 500 and 1,000 patients undergo corrective surgery each year. During the operation, the bone is broken and attached to a metal frame designed to stimulate new bone growth. However, surgical lengthening of the bone can damage the soft tissues and in some cases this damage is permanent.
If muscles are overstretched this can cause muscle fibre damage and the formation of scar tissue. This in turn can lead to muscle weakness and loss of joint movement. It can often be difficult for doctors to accurately gauge how well the patient is recovering from the complex procedure.
Action Medical Research has ploughed £60,000 into a two-year project at the Universities of Hull and Edinburgh and the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London. One of the main findings of this pioneering work, which was headed by Dr Pamela Williams, is that in surgical limb lengthening the main problem lies with the inability of the connective tissue within the muscle to adapt to length changes.
Stiffness of the connective tissue limits the extension of the muscle fibres and thus muscle fibre growth fails to keep pace with bone growth. During the course of the project, the team developed an antibody to detect a newly identified growth factor (a protein which encourages tissue growth — Ed.) called mechano growth factor. ^The researchers have successfully used this antibody as a research tool^ to determine whether muscle fibres are undergoing growth and regeneration.
Dr Williams told Touching Lives, “Our work, funded by Action Medical Research, has enabled us to gain important information about muscle damage and regeneration. We hope that this will be used to help monitor and adjust surgical lengthening procedures in order to provide the best outcome for patients.”