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Experimental med may help disabled get fit

October 5, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Is it science fiction? Or is it something that could be reality in the not-so-distant future? Some are calling it a "workout in a pill." A new experimental medication may help sick or disabled people exercise their muscles -- without ever going to the gym.Pam Mackie enjoys reading. But nothing beats pumping iron. More than 20 years ago, a broken neck put her in a wheelchair. Even today, exercise is dangerous.

"My body's not able to regulate its temperature, so I have to be careful not to get overheated," said Mackie. "Blood and the fluids want to pool in my lower extremities, since I'm not able to move those."

Vihang A. Narkar, Ph.D., from the Center for Diabetes and Obesity Research at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, may be able to help.

"Exercise is a very complex process," said Dr. Narkar.

He's created a pill that mimics aerobic activity. When you workout, your muscles use energy to move then tell your body to make more energy. Dr. Narkar's pill acts like the signal that tells the body to boost energy production. In turn, your muscles are tricked into thinking they've been moving.

"I think this is particularly promising," said Dr. Narkar.

Studies show inactive mice on the pill ran up to 45-percent longer and further on a treadmill than mice without it. And with 23 million diabetics and 50,000 muscular dystrophy patients in the U.S., that's big news.

"All of these diseases have been known to benefit from aerobic exercise," said Dr. Narkar.

"I wouldn't have to be worried about tearing out my shoulder or injuring myself," explained Mackie.

Mackie is sold. Just 35 percent of disabled women nationwide live at a healthy weight. She's hoping the doctor can keep her fit without the hurt.

Dr. Narkar stresses this pill is no substitute for actual exercise. Still, he's currently involved in a pre-clinical trial, which could pick up pace in the next several months.


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