Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne have been created a real “mighty mouse” with double the normal muscle strength while looking for ways to treat age-related diseases.
According to some tests, the mouse has not only bigger muscles but, could run for twice as long on the treadmill.
Swiss researchers created the “super strong marathon mice” by tweaking a gene and found without it the rodents’ muscles bulked up and they had more energy.
If the effects the scientists found could be replicated in humans, they believe it could lead to therapies against muscle-wasting in the elderly which can lead to falls and broken bones, as well as incurable diseases such as muscular dystrophy.
However, there are also ethical concerns that such therapies could be used to give athletes an unfair advantage.
Swiss scientists found that a tiny inhibitor – called NCoR1 – may be responsible for how strong and powerful our muscles are.
They would then work on developing a drug which could produce a similar effect.
By genetically modifying mice to stop it working, the scientists suppressed the enzyme which normally stops muscle from building up.
Taking it out did not appear to have any adverse effects, according to their study published today in the journal Cell.
The “marathon mice” were able to run faster, longer and cover twice as much distance as unmodified mice and were also better at putting up with cold conditions.
By looking at the muscles under the microscope, researchers found they were denser and their tissue contained higher numbers of mitochondria – the “batteries” that power cells.
Similar results were found when the same experiment was repeated on worms. The researchers believe the modification could potentially be applied to humans.
Study author Professor Johan Auwerx said: “This could be used to combat muscle weakness in the elderly, which leads to falls and contributes to hospitalizations.
“In addition, we think that this could be used as a basis for developing a treatment for genetic muscular dystrophy. If these results are confirmed in humans, there’s no question it will attract interest from athletes as well as medical experts.
“It will be important for anti-doping authorities to monitor that these treatments are not used.”