Personalized therapies are the future, but they do pose a challenge. If every therapy will be different, how do you test them? Obviously, doctors would have the best test subject available – the patient, but you can only do so much with him. Now a team if scientists lead by UCL found that artificial muscles can be grown from healthy and diseased stem cells of patients with muscular dystrophies.
These artificially grown 3D muscles then could be used to test various therapies, because they are a perfect representation of the patient’s cells. Scientists were very happy to see that these muscle models display all the characteristic features of severe muscle diseases. Furthermore, the stem cell technology allows scientists to grow unlimited amount of samples and they can be combined with other types of cells, such as motor neurons. Scientists managed to grow muscles from stem cells from patients of various forms of muscle dystrophy, proving that this method could provide personalized treatment to many people.
As you may imagine, muscle cells are not actually necessary for this process. Scientists took samples of skin cells and turned them into pluripotent stem cells, which then can be grown to become muscle cells as well as other components of muscle tissue, such as blood vessel cells and motor neuron cells. Dr Francesco Saverio Tedesco, one of the authors of the study, said: “Our findings are expected to facilitate development of therapies for incurable forms of muscular dystrophy by providing a novel way to test treatments in a personalised fashion and on multiple cell types at the same time. They could also help in developing artificial muscles for tissue replacement”.
This research was based on previous work, which showed that human pluripotent stem cells can be grown to become muscle cells. In this way indefinite amount of artificial muscle can be grown in the laboratory, using existing techniques and equipment. This new study proved that these artificial muscles can be used to model severe diseases and thus are perfect models for testing various therapies. Now we have to wait and see how scientists will employ this process.
Of course there are disadvantages. Personalized treatments should be quick. While having several models allows testing different therapies at the same time, which is not possible now testing drugs on the patient, other aspects of this process are still to be perfected.