It happens from one second to the next. Legs or arms are paralyzed for minutes - maybe even several hours. The attacks come and go. But over the years, muscle atrophy often develops, making walking impossible. Hypokalemic periodic paralysis (HypoPP) is the name of the disease that affects only one person in a hundred thousand.
Hypokalemic periodic paralysis is inherited and often affects all four limbs simultaneously. Sometimes a high-carbohydrate meal is enough to trigger the paralytic attacks. It can also happen with anxiety, cold, exercise or alcohol consumption. Even if the paralyses pass, the condition of Patients worsens with age - so much so that sooner or later they are dependent on a wheelchair. For a long time, patients were helpless facing their fate. But then a team of researchers made a groundbreaking discovery.
Dr. Karin Jurkat-Rott from the University Hospital Ulm and Prof. Dr. Marc-André Weber from the University Medical Center Rostock discovered that muscle paralysis is triggered by a low potassium concentration in the blood. They also detected sodium and water retention through MRI examinations. In order to drain the tissue and increase the potassium in the blood, the scientists administered a drug that is actually used to treat heart failure to two patients as part of an individual healing trial. The results could hardly have been more impressive: The muscle strength of both patients improved so much that they were no longer dependent on wheelchairs. Karin Jurkat-Rott and Marc-André Weber received the Eva Luise Köhler Research Award 2010 for their findings, and the drug is now part of the standard therapy. With the money awarded from the foundation, the researchers financed a highly specialized MRI that enables even more precise measurements in the muscle.
Also today - more than ten years later - research continues. Prof. Dr. Marc-André Weber is collaborating with the University of Erlangen to investigate the importance of potassium in muscle diseases even better - again using highly specialized MRI. Marc-André Weber: "We hope this will provide us with new insights so that we can also help people with other rare muscle diseases as specifically as possible."