Researchers at Duke University made an incredible find in the field of biomimetics: they were able to create artificially grown human muscle that can contract in response to stimuli. The team published their results earlier this week on January 9 in the journal eLIFE.
Scientists have never before been able to create muscle that can react to stimuli like real human muscles. The Duke team was able to use primary myogenic cells to create muscle tissue that could respond to electric and chemical stimuli. Primary myogenic cells are cells that will grow into muscle tissue. They received these cells from donors, and then stretched them across a layer of silicone to stretch them beyond their original size. The team was able to multiply the amount of muscle donated by 100 times through this growth process. For every 50 mg of donated muscle cells, the team grew 5g of human muscle.
Though scientists working in biomimetics have made some progress with generating animal muscle tissue, this step forward in human muscle is a huge accomplishment, one that overcame a very difficult roadblock.
"We have a lot of experience making bioartifical muscles from animal cells in the laboratory, and it still took us a year of adjusting variables like cell and gel density and optimizing the culture matrix and media to make this work with human muscle cells," said Lauran Madden, one of the heads of the research team.
The team also tested their lab-grown muscle in drug tests that sample muscle tissue, and found that their muscle worked in the test the same way that real human muscle would. The team hopes that one day, artificial muscle can take the place of humans in drug safety tests.
"The beauty of this work is that it can serve as a test bed for clinical trials in a dish. We are working to test drugs' efficacy and safety without jeopardizing a patient's health and also to reproduce the functional and biochemical signals of diseases - especially rare ones and those that make taking muscle biopsies difficult," said Nenad Bursac, another head of the study.
You can watch a video demonstrating the muscle in action below.