Inside the lab. It's where the hopes of scientists and patients merge. But a medical breakthrough takes time ... and lots of money. A local researcher takes us behind the scenes as he embarks on a promising journey.

Dr. Renzhi Han, Muscular Dystrophy Researcher, Loyola University Medical Center: "We are spending many, many days and hours in the lab."

Years before new treatments reach patients, there is an idea ... followed by a carefuly plotted plan. Countless experiments performed right here at the scientist's bench. This is what the early stages of a possible breakthrough look like.

Dr. Renzhi Han: "We are studying the mechanism of muscular dystrophy, how loss of a single protein can cause muscle degeneration."

With intense focus, Loyola's Dr. Renzhi Han peers at skeletal mucle cells. He's interested in the cell's membrane and a protein called dysferlin that keeps it intact.

Dr. Renzhi Han: "Here is a picture of a normal muscle."

A normal muscle ... the outer membranes fit tightly together ... intact and functional. But in an animal model with muscular dystrophy, the membranes start to separate and weaken.

Dr. Renzhi Han: "This is the start of the disease."

Physical activity stresses the muscle, destroying the integrity of the structure. And without the key protein dysferlin, the muscle can't repair itself.

Dr. Renzhi Han: "They cannot be repaired because the damage is too big."

That is what Dr. Han is attempting to change.

Dr. Renzhi Han: "If we can stop membrane damage in the beginning, then we can at least alleviate disease progression."

First he'll have to unlock the mystery of the body's own immune system, which somehow kicks into high gear when it senses the protein loss ... causing the disease to progress faster.

Dr. Renzhi Han: "Whenever we find a way to improve the disease that is the most excitement we can get from our daily work."

Seventy percent of patients with this type of muscular dystrophy will lose mobility and become wheelchair bound. Dr. Han's $400,000 grant from the MDA allows him to pursue his mission for life ... to help others live and thrive.