Building muscle, minus the weights

By | Health & Wellness
Stem cells, like the pluripotent ones derived from embryonic cells in the diagram above, have the potential to differentiate into almost any adult cell in the body. New research has created a faster and more efficient method of creating muscle cells in the hope to treat several conditions. Credit image@ Mike Jones, wikimedia commons

The potential advances that are offered by stem cells have been noted in numerous scientific papers covering hundreds of medicinal topics. The potency of such treatments has been shown through hypothetical and experimental data, with more and more research being conducted in clinical trials as we speak.

The beauty of stem cells lies in the capability of these structures to differentiate into vast number and type of cells, making their use almost ubiquitous.

Thus, an American team has shown an innovative technique to create new muscle cells using stem cell research. Specialists from the University of Wisconsin and Medical College of Wisconsin published their research and results in the scientific journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Stem cells have several key properties that make them a noteworthy target for therapeutic uses: self-renewal and potency. The former allows these cells to undergo several stages of cell division in their undifferentiated state, allowing them to grow vastly in numbers with the capability of changing into the desired cell, which defines the latter.

The stem cells used in the new protocol were derived from human embryonic stem (hES) and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, with the Wisconsin team adding to and refining a method that was previous sought after to make brain tissue.

“Until the research was published, the creation of muscle tissue in sufficient quantities required the using of genetic manipulation,” explained Professor Masatoshi Suzuki, assistant professor of comparative biosciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine, speaking for the University of Wisconsin-Madison news release.

However, their technique includes the novel use of free-floating spherical culture (EZ spheres), floating in a specific medium. Within the EZ spheres were the stem cells, being fed fibroblast growth factor-2 and epidermal growth factor, two compounds that cause the stem cells to differentiate into muscular tissue, in high concentrations within the medium in which they were kept.

Such high concentrations are required to stimulate the creation of muscle cells, as the growth factors, particularly fibroblast growth factor-2, are required to stimulate myogenic progenitors (i.e. precursors to muscle cells) from the undifferentiated pluripotent stem cells which, in effect, have the potential to develop into any cell. Thus, high concentration ensures the correct induction into muscular cell types.

The researchers noted the ease of differentiating the various cells into muscle cells, which Suzuki also mentioned during the news release.

This new methodology has come with a number of benefits. The researchers are now capable of using the grown stem cells to replace muscle tissue in patients over a number of varying conditions, as well as the fact that the medium in which the cells are grown in is animal product-free, which increases the safety during clinical use.

Furthermore, the new technique put forward by the Wisconsin team allows for faster cell growth than traditional techniques, making more muscle tissue in less time. This means that such stem cells could be collected from a patient that requires new muscle tissue and would be available to them in much faster circumstances. In addition, the percentage of muscle cells created using Suzuki et al.’s methodology is much higher than the standard genetic techniques currently used.

The researchers also trialed the use of stem cells from patients with neuromuscular diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), perhaps more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s. As a result, the adult stem cells would contain the genetic information behind such conditions, allowing for their study, whilst the rapid replication rate would be useful during the screening of potential therapeutic drugs for the treatment of these conditions.

How would you like to see stem cell research evolve in the future?

 

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