March 20, 2018 - 16:11 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Duke scientists have developed working human muscle tissue from stem cells, edging closer to creating more personalized therapies for disease, The Duke Chronicle reports.
The researchers—led by Nenad Bursac, professor of biomedical engineering—converted pluripotent stem cells, which are a class of cells that can be induced into almost any cell type in the body, to muscle tissue using a carefully coordinated chemical system.
Induced pluripotent stem cells are converted by capturing existing cells from a person and regressing them back into a more immature state through biochemical means. Since the iPS cells are genetically identical to the cells of the patient that they come from, researchers can use them to recreate a patient’s disease tissue outside the body, explained Lingjun Rao, a postdoctoral scholar in Bursac’s laboratory and first author of the study.
"There are different types of muscular diseases," Rao said. "With [induced pluripotent stem cells], we can take skin cells and then convert them into iPS cells, and then convert them into muscle."
Historically, diseases such as muscular dystrophy have been difficult to study, since it has not previously been possible to grow and maintain functional muscle tissue in the laboratory. Although Bursac and his team are still fine-tuning their platform, they are excited by the possibility of studying muscle diseases with a model that could be subjected to function and drug-targeting tests for research.
With the new functional muscle platform, researchers could one day tailor therapies for patients by recreating their diseased muscles and testing them against different drug candidates, Bursac explained.
"Being able to study these muscles in 2D or 3D culture systems show [functional] features of diseases," he said. "And so in this moment we are having a development of disease models for different genetic diseases, and then trying to test some drugs or chemicals and compounds or even gene therapies that could be able to correct or halt the disease."
iPS cells have been studied alongside embryonic stem cells in prior research. However, scientists have largely moved away from using the latter because of ethical concerns. In addition, Bursac noted, embryonic stem cells cannot provide the same level of precision and consistency when used for study since they come from embryos unrelated to patients.
Because iPS-derived muscle cells are genetically indistinguishable from other cells in the body, it might one day be possible to transplant lab-grown muscles into patients without concern of triggering an immune response. However, the promise of stem cell therapies is still far off from a technical standpoint, Bursac noted.
"The reason for that is because there has been the possibility that iPS technologies may not be safe to use in humans," he said. "Because if the cells were not completely regenerative they may be [more prone to malfunction]. It does not mean that [stem cell therapies] won't happen. It just means that it will probably take much longer than what we might expect."