It’s true. Lab rats at Duke University have just announced that they can now grow muscles in the lab.
Seriously, though, the lab-grown muscles are designed to be a crucial tool to be used in the study of neuromuscular disorders. It would also make it easier to develop new drugs for treating neuromuscular disorders because it can be used in place of actual humans in clinical trials. Researchers show in videos that they were able to simulate reactions in the bioengineered muscles that appeared to mimic native reactions from muscles that were actually attached to humans.
Currently, researchers need to extract sample tissue from a particular patient, grow the muscles, and then test drugs on those to see what happens. If the muscles react the way researchers want it to, the drugs are then used on the actual patient. This way the drugs are customized to factor in individual idiosyncrasies. It’s a bit like having designer coffee, but much less tasty. Scientists hope to eventually do away with the sample and simply grow the muscles from skin stem cells or blood samples, which is much less invasive than taking a tissue sample.
For most people, the development is just one of a series of mysterious goings-on in the labs, but its real world applications are actually awesome, but also slightly creepy. Imagine a disembodied muscle twitching in a petri dish and you can’t help thinking of The Blob.
Of course, although some neuromuscular disorders are due to something going haywire in the muscles themselves, such as muscular dystrophy, most are actually due to something going wrong in some part of the central nervous system. The next step, presumably, is to bioengineer a brain and spinal cord……