SYDNEY - An experimental procedure that dramatically strengthens stem cells’ ability to regenerate damaged tissue could offer new hope to victims of muscle-wasting diseases like myopathy and muscular dystrophy.

The first-ever procedure has been successfully used to regrow muscles in a mouse model, but it could be applied to all tissue-based illnesses in humans in the liver, pancreas or brain, the researchers say.

The research team, which is based at University of New South Wales (UNSW) and formerly from Sydney’s Westmead Children’s Hospital, adapted a technique currently being tried in bone marrow transplantation.

Adult stem cells are given a gene that makes them resistant to chemotherapy, which is used to clean out damaged cells and allow the new stem cells to take hold.

The ability of adult stem cells to regenerate whole tissues opens up a world of new possibilities for many diseases, according to the study co-authors, Peter Gunning and Edna Hardeman, both professors, and Antonio Lee, from UNSW’s School of Medical Sciences.

‘What has been the realm of science fiction is looking more and more like the medicine of the future,’ Gunning said.

The procedure solves one of the major hurdles involving stem cell therapy - getting the cells to survive for more than an hour or so after inserting them into damaged tissue, said an UNSW release.

These findings were detailed in the journal Stem Cells.