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Queensland scientists create functioning muscle in a dish

QIMR Berghofer researchers have created functioning miniature human skeletal muscle – a move that will accelerate research into muscle disease and treatments.

The bio-engineered one millimetre by 0.5 millimetre skeletal muscles flex and move like muscles in the body and grow and strengthen with exercise.

It is believed to be one of the most accurate scientific models of human skeletal muscle to be developed.

A study about the creation of the micro muscle has been published in the journal Biomaterials.

The head of QIMR Berghofer’s Organoid Research Laboratory, Dr James Hudson, said the micro muscles would be an invaluable tool for researchers working on the development of new drugs and therapies for diseases like muscular dystrophy and muscle degeneration.

“It gives us the ability to perform experiments on someone’s muscle in a petri dish,” Dr Hudson said.

“We created this micro muscle using a new method we developed. We firstly cultured stem cells from a patient’s muscle, and then used bio-engineering devices and controlled culture conditions to turn them into human micro muscle tissues.

“So far the mini muscle functions and responds to signals in the same way as muscle in the body, making it a great model to accelerate research in muscle biology.”

QIMR Berghofer post-doctoral researcher, Dr Richard Mills, who was lead author on the paper, said he hoped the ability to test human muscle outside of the body would lead to the development of better drugs for disease.

“We’ve created a special device that can grow hundreds of these small muscles at the same time, which can be used to test many conditions or drugs,” Dr Mills said.

“It may even have potential for the development of targeted, personalised treatments – where we can take cells from a patient, create hundreds of mini muscles and test which treatment is best for that individual.”

The muscle is the largest organ in the body by mass and plays a key role in health.

The next step for Dr Hudson’s team is to use the human micro muscle to find key targets for muscle-related diseases and to improve overall health.

The national multi-disciplinary study was co-led by Dr Hudson from QIMR Berghofer and Dr Enzo Porrello from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and The University of Melbourne.

It also involved researchers from The University of Queensland and The University of Sydney.