DALLAS - There has been a breakthrough discovery at a North Texas medical center that could affect millions of children with scoliosis.

If you think you're hot in 100-plus temperatures, imagine wrapping yourself in a plastic corset, which is basically what 10-year-old Sandra Mooney does every day.

It's all sweaty when you take it off and it's stinky, she said.

It's no fun, but the back brace she wears is helping straighten Sandra's spine. She was diagnosed with scoliosis at age five.

The spine deformity affects about seven million Americans, most of which are female.

Vanessa Williams, Liza Minnelli, Olympic swimmer Janet Evans and Madonna's daughter Lourdes have all been diagnosed. Princess Eugenie underwent back surgery to correct scoliosis.

But, what causes it? said Carol Wise, molecular geneticist. Is it a problem of the bones, is it a problem of the muscles, is it a problem of the nerves?

Wise and her team at Scottish Rite in Dallas set out to find out.

After years of research on the DNA of hundreds of scoliosis patients, they made a significant breakthrough and published their findings, linking the spinal curvature called idiopathic scoliosis to a set of genes.

The ones that we discovered are the ones that tell the nerves which direction to grow, Wise said. For example, in the spinal cord is this nerve supposed to grow upward or downward or across. That's what these genes are controlling.

The discovery could one day revolutionize treatment with the development of drugs for scoliosis, instead of surgery or back-bracing, which Mooney and her mother, Lena, both endured.

I have another daughter and a grandchild, so that would be great in looking to hope they don't have it, Mooney's mother said. Or if they do, maybe they don't have to go through the bracing.

That sounds good to both mother and daughter.

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