“Growing up, I saw my dad experience a lot of problems… muscles getting weaker, heart problems,” Eric T. Wang, Ph.D., says, in a moving video about his research at MIT. “Friends would ask me: Why is your dad mad? Why doesn’t he ever smile?
“It was because his face muscles were weak.”
Wang’s father suffered from myotonic dystrophy, the most common kind of muscular dystrophy, which affects about 40,000 people in the US. It can affect people of any age, who experience symptoms like muscle atrophy, breathing problems, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, cognitive difficulties, gallstones, cataracts, lung infections, and even sudden death.
A hallmark symptom is myotonia — difficulty relaxing muscles after they contract:
Muscles often waste away, leaving patients severely weakened and in wheelchairs.
“I never thought I could have a big impact on changing that situation,” Wang says. But then the Harvard-educated scientist decided to make it the center of his research.
Wang began by contacting researchers to see how he could help. “What are the major problems in this disease? What are the questions that are remaining? And how do we get from there to something that’s going to affect patients?”
In 2013, he opened his lab at MIT after receiving a special NIH grant designed to jumpstart the careers of “exceptionally promising young scientists.” His research has begun to unravel why certain physiological changes happen to people suffering from myotonic dystrophy and other related diseases.
One of Wang’s lab technicians, whose story is also featured in the video, is a recent Yale graduate who herself has myotonic dystrophy.
Wang’s story ends on a hopeful note. “I like to imagine certain people that I know who have [myotonic dystrophy] who one day will probably be better,” he says. “I think as long as we put in the time and the energy and the resources … that vision I have for the future is going to happen.”
Watch the whole video here:
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