Research at Duke University, led by Nenad Bursac, has developed the first bioartificial human skeletal muscle that contracts and responds to electrical and chemical signals.
Using a small sample of biopsied stem cells that were on their way to becoming muscle cells, the researchers expanded them and arranged them on a 3D scaffolding loaded with nourishing gel so that the cells can grow into a fully functioning muscle tissue. The bioartificial muscle fibres were then examined to ascertain if their response to chemical and electrical stimuli resembled that of skeletal muscle, grown inside a human organism.
The bioartificial fibres were tested with drugs, including the performance enhancing drug, statin. Statin lowers cholesterol and clenbuterol levels. It also causes an abnormal cumulation of fat in muscle cells and increases contractions. The impact of statin on the muscle tissue grown in vitro was the same as that witnessed in humans. It was also discovered that the signalling pathways, triggering the contraction of muscles were preserved in the bioartificial tissue.
The same research group is simultaneously working on growing muscle cells from induced pluripotent stem cells. Both studies would provide a safer alternative for testing of pharmaceuticals which will not endanger the lives of people. It would also become easier to study diseases such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which do not allow for biopsy.
Nenad Bursac expressed hopes that the research would develop a more personalised form of medicine: “We can take a biopsy from each patient, grow many new muscles to use as test samples and experiment to see which drugs would work best for each person.”