By Daniel Drachman, MD, as told to Stephanie Watson
Myasthenia gravis (MG) has been treatable for nearly 100 years. In 1934, the Scottish doctor Mary Broadfoot Walker, MD, discovered that the drug physostigmine improved muscle function in people with the disease.
In myasthenia gravis, abnormal antibodies reduce the number of receptors for acetylcholine on muscle cells. You need acetylcholine receptors for your muscles to function normally. The antibodies interfere with the sending of the chemical signal from the nerve to the muscle that makes the muscle contract.
Today, pyridostigmine (Mestinon), a drug that’s a relative of physostigmine, is used to slow the breakdown…