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Another Historic First: A Contracting Human Muscle Grown in Duke Laboratories

muscle-creationIt seems that scientists are getting closer and closer to rebuilding human tissues and organs in laboratory settings these days. Last year, we told you about manufactured blood and regenerating organs. But this year, scientists from Duke University have created something truly unique in their labs.

The Duke researchers have successfully grown human skeletal muscle that contracts and responds just like native tissue to external stimuli such as electrical pulses, biochemical signals and pharmaceuticals. The new report from Science Daily indicates that the lab-grown tissue should soon allow researchers to test new drugs and study diseases in functioning human muscle outside of the human body.

“The beauty of this work is that it can serve as a test bed for clinical trials in a dish,” said Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University. “We are working to test drugs’ efficacy and safety without jeopardizing a patient’s health and also to reproduce the functional and biochemical signals of diseases–especially rare ones and those that make taking muscle biopsies difficult.”

To achieve this breakthrough, the researchers took human cells, those that had already progressed beyond stem cells but hadn’t yet become muscle tissue, and put them into a supportive, 3D scaffolding filled with a nourishing gel. This treatment allowed the cells to mature into fully-grown muscle tissue; but the real question was would it behave like a real human muscle?

Lauran Madden, a postdoctoral researcher in Bursac’s laboratory and partner in this project, found that the muscles contracted when responding to electrical stimuli–a first for human muscle grown in a laboratory. She also tested the muscle’s response to a variety of drugs, including drugs used to lower cholesterol, and the muscle responded just like human tissue.

When asked about the future of this research, Bursac told Science Daily that “One of our goals is to use this method to provide personalized medicine to patients. 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.”

And that goal may not be too far away. Bursac is already working on a study with clinicians at Duke Medicine to try and get approval to use these home grown muscles in drug trials. We may be seeing a future in which doctors will use your own stem cells to create a tissue sample in a laboratory setting and test medicines on that sample without harming you, the patient.

Of course, that’s a scenario for another day. But this breakthrough in muscle tissue creation and development is certainly a major step in the scientific world. It might not be too long before scientists will be able to grow every organ and tissue from your own cells! Wiggle on, little muscle, wiggle on!

photo credit: Science Daily

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