End to Muscle Fatigue

The Victor Contes of this world will be keeping a close eye on Columbia University in New York, where a team of scientists claim that they have not only discovered the reason for muscle fatigue but have designed a drug that reduces it.

The experimental drug has been tested on mice and has apparently allowed them to continue swimming long after they should have stopped with exhaustion. But yesterday a scientist in Britain questioned the method, motivation and results of the tests.

For a century, scientists believed that the accumulation of lactic acid in muscle cells was the reason for fatigue and decreased athletic performance.

That has been largely discredited for a decade but the question of why muscles get tired has remained unanswered.

The Columbia study claims that muscle fatigue is the result of the leak of calcium ions that reduces the force of muscle contraction. Working on the hunch that the fatigue suffered by victims of heart failure was the same as that suffered by marathon runners, members of the Columbia team found a similarity in the leaking calcium. They then gave the drug, which plugs the leak, to mice and put them on an intensive 21-day swimming programme.

Andrew Marks, head of the department of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia and leader of the study, said that testing on human subjects will begin in May, but how the drug is used by elite sportsmen �??is out of my control�??.

�??I wouldn�??t want to let that stand in the way of something that could help thousands of patients,�?? he said.

But Mike Ferenczi, professor of physiological sciences at Imperial College, London, cast doubt on the findings. �??It may have a role in combating fatigue, but we know there are many other much more obvious things which affect fatigue, which he [Marks] does not discuss.

�??If you look at the mice that they use and the protocol, it�??s a form of torture. I would be surprised if it [the experiment] would be allowed in Britain.�??