University of Southern California researchers have come up with a way to develop larger, and much stronger muscle fibers. They say instead of pumping iron at the gym and exercising, more pronounced muscles can be created through tiny scaffold or “chips” molded from a type of water-logged gel that is made from gelatin. First authors Archana Bettadapur and Gio C. Suh describe these muscles found on a chip in complete detail in their new study that has been published in full in Scientific Reports journal.
During your typical embryonic development, skeletal muscles form when cells known as myoblasts fuse in order to form muscle fibers, called myotubes. In previous experiments, mouse myotubes have become detached or delaminated from protein-coated plastic scaffolds after about a week and simply failed to thrive. However, during the latest experiments, researchers fabricated a gel scaffold from gelatin and were able to achieve much better results. The gelatin was derived of the naturally occurring muscle protein collagen. After three weeks, many of the mouse myotubes were still adhering to the gelatin chips and they were becoming much longer, wider and more developed because of their stable connection.
Researchers believe that human myotubes will thrive just as well on gelatin chips. The new and improved “muscles on a chip” could then be used in the study of human muscle development and disease, as well as provide a relevant testing ground for new potential drugs.
McCain, Assistant Professor of biomedical engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, says disease and disorders involving skeletal muscle ranging from severe muscular dystrophies to the gradual decrease in muscle mass with aging dramatically reduce the quality of life for millions of people. By creating an inexpensive and accessible platform for the study of skeletal muscle in the laboratory, he hopes to enable research that will usher in new treatments for these patients.
McCain has been putting the gelatin chips into action, as he became the winner of an Eli and Edythe Broad Innovation Awards in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at USC. The award was $120,000 to both McCain and her two collaborators. In their project, they will use the gelatin chips to study amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS) and Lou Gehrig’s disease, which damages the intersections between motor nerve cells and muscle cells known as neuromuscular junctions or (NMJs). McCain will use skin or blood cells during the study from patients with ALS in order to generate and study NMJs on gelatin chips.