BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

For­get hit­ting the gym, this is a much more ef­fi­cient way of build­ing muscle: a team at Duke Uni­ver­sity has grown func­tion­ing hu­man skele­tal muscle us­ing in­duced pluripo­tent stem cells.

The re­searchers say that this break­through could help them treat dis­eases such as mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy.

The mus­cles were grown us­ing pluripo­tent stem cells. These are cells taken from adult non-muscle tis­sues, such as skin or blood, and re­pro­grammed to re­vert to a nascent state. These stem cells were grown into muscle tis­sue by flood­ing them with a mol­e­cule called Pax7 – a key com­po­nent in the for­ma­tion of muscle tis­sue.

The team then grew the cells in a 3D scaf­fold, en­cour­ag­ing them to form muscle fi­bres that could con­tract and re­spond to ex­ter­nal stim­uli, just like liv­ing muscle. The team then trans­planted the muscle into mice, where it be­gan to in­te­grate into the ex­ist­ing tis­sue. It was not as strong as nat­u­rally grown muscle, but still holds prom­ise for treat­ing de­gen­er­a­tive muscle dis­eases.

“The prospect of study­ing rare dis­eases is es­pe­cially ex­cit­ing for us,” said Prof Ne­nad Bur­sac. “When a child’s mus­cles are al­ready with­er­ing away from some­thing like Duchenne mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy, it would not be eth­i­cal to take muscle sam­ples from them and do fur­ther dam­age. But with this tech­nique, we can just take a small sam­ple of non-muscle tis­sue, like skin or blood, re­vert the ob­tained cells to a pluripo­tent state, and even­tu­ally grow an end­less amount of func­tion­ing muscle fi­bres to test.”

Cross-section of muscle fi­bre grown from in­duced pluripo­tent stem cells. The green ar­eas are muscle cells, the blue ar­eas are cell nu­clei, and the red ar­eas are the sur­round­ing sup­port ma­trix

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