October 1, 2013

A compound commonly found in household laundry detergents may help preserve muscle tissue after a severe injury, according to research conducted in rats and funded in part by the NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The findings, although preliminary, could have implications for saving limbs and preventing tissue death even after blood flow has been disrupted. The study recently was published in PLOS ONE.

Typically, when blood flow through the body is stopped or reduced after a severe injury—such as a crush injury from a car accident or a blast injury sustained in combat—muscle tissue is deprived of oxygen and begins to die. This can lead to skeletal muscle tissue death and possibly amputation.

"Current treatments for saving damaged tissue after a traumatic incident use compounds that increase oxygen levels in the blood, but these technologies rely on intact blood vessels to deliver the extra oxygen to affected areas,” said senior author George Christ, Ph.D., of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “If blood vessels are also damaged or cut off, the oxygen cannot be delivered."

Christ and his colleagues identified an oxygen-generating compound known as sodium percarbonate (SPO)—an agent typically found in laundry detergent—as a potential treatment for traumatized tissue. When exposed to water, SPO breaks down into oxygen, water and salts. SPO has shown promise as a therapeutic agent for healing wounds, but it has not previously been tested for treating skeletal muscle injuries.

The compound was modified so that it could be injected directly into damaged muscle tissue. Initial laboratory studies compared SPO-treated and untreated tissue samples. The researchers found that the SPO effectively preserved both the function and metabolic balance of damaged muscle tissue.

The compound was then tested on rats. First, blood flow to a rat’s leg was surgically disrupted. SPO was injected into the oxygen-deprived leg muscles, and the leg was then exercised at five-minute intervals. The SPO-treated legs were able to maintain 30 percent of normal force during exercise—despite the interrupted blood flow—for up to 30 minutes. In rats not treated with SPO, the muscles subjected to exercise showed little or no contraction or force after 25 to 30 minutes.

Further research will aim to determine if the SPO compound can be dispersed more widely to larger muscle groups, and if it can be applied safely and effectively in humans.

"This is the first study to demonstrate a potential way of getting oxygen directly to muscles even if blood flow has been cut off," said Dr. Christ. "If it is found to be successful, it could extend the window of opportunity after a severe injury in which emergency treatment can prevent permanent damage or even tissue death."

The study was also supported by the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command

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Ward CL, Corona BT, Yoo JJ, Harrison BS, Christ GJ. Oxygen Generating Biomaterials Preserve Skeletal Muscle Homeostasis under Hypoxic and Ischemic Conditions. PLoS ONE. 2013 Aug 26;8(8):e72485. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072485. PMID: 23991116.

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