Is Super-Strength Possible?

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Superman, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Can you imagine having the physique of an Olympic athlete without the training? This is the reality for 11-year-old Liam Hoekstra. 

He has a rare genetic condition caused by the deletion or suppression of the gene that produces Myostatin. 

In a normal body, Myostatin is produced to suppress the growth of muscles. This is important for muscles like our heart and other organs so that they do not grow overly large and cause problems.

In Liam’s case, he has roughly 40% more muscle mass than an average person his age, increased strength, breathtaking quickness, and a fast metabolism; and next to no body fat.

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Myostatin Deletion, CC BY-NC 4.0

The condition mainly affects his leg, calf and arm muscles, and appears to have no effect on his heart. (1)

One of the drawbacks that Liam faces is that children his age need some body fat to feed brain growth and the development of the central nervous system.

“Without adequate body fat, a child’s growth can be stunted,” said Dr. Erlund Larson, Hackley Hospital, a man who is familiar with Liam’s condition. His condition is rare; only one of a few hundred. 

A blood test revealed that he doesn’t have the genetic mutation that blocks all of the production of Myostatin, which can cause problems; rather he has “Myostatin Blockade” which means that he has lowered production of the protein.  This effects some, but not all, areas of the body. (2)

Research is underway on other individuals to see if it is possible to produce the same effects on aging individuals and those who suffer from Muscular Dystrophy, a condition that results in increasing weakening and breakdown of muscles over time. It differs from person to person which muscles are affected, the degree of weakness, how fast they worsen and when the symptoms begin. However, most cases result in the patients becoming unable to walk and move around.

Using a genetic treatment, such as the Myostatin deletion, would significantly improve the lives of many patients who are suffering from Muscular Dystrophy. (3)

As for Liam, his family are content on letting him live a normal life. They state they have no plans to take the advice of friends who have jokingly suggested they hire an agent for Liam to line up pro sports deals or modelling contracts.

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