Breakthrough made in artificial muscles

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

artificial muscle diagram
The researchers were able to grow veins deep inside the densely-packed muscle.

Muscles are pretty amazing tissues. They generate force to help us move, fix themselves, and get stronger the more they’re used. Now, for the first time ever, researchers have created an artificial muscle with all these features… and implanted it inside of an animal!

As you might imagine, making the tissue has not been easy. Muscles are made up of individual fibers that are packed together very tightly. Yet, all of the muscle cells need to have access to blood in order to work properly. Then, if the muscles are damaged, they have a store of special cells called stem cells that can heal them. This doesn’t just mean a deep gash or a severe injury; our muscle cells tear all the time, like after an intense PE class!

Yet it’s these same features that made them difficult to recreate in the lab. The scientists had to make sure all the muscle cells were aligned perfectly, or they wouldn’t contract correctly and generate enough power. Their strength would also be hindered if each cell didn’t get enough blood and nutrients. Finally, the artificial tissue needed to have a mechanism to repair itself, or it would get weaker with every single little tear.

By using muscle stem cells from mice, the researchers successfully created a functioning muscle! First, they took some stem cells from the muscles of the furry rodents and grew even more stem cells. Next, the researchers isolated a chemical in the blood called fibrinogen, which helps cells bond together. After placing the cells in a muscle-shaped container and coating them with fibrinogen, they were able to create a muscle! When they implanted the lab creation inside a mouse, it behaved completely normally.

This is definitely a cause for celebration, but the researchers aren’t’ done yet; their next goal  is to replicate the process for humans. If they are successful, they could use the artificial tissue to repair victims suffering from severe muscle damage, or test drugs without the use of animals.

Images courtesy of Duke.