Tiny fibres from unusual sea creatures could help to regrow human muscle tissue, following research from Manchester University.
A team from the university’s materials department used nanoscale ’whiskers’ of cellulose taken from animals called tunicates to create a scaffold that encouraged muscle cells to grow.
Cellulose from plants is already used in medical applications such as wound dressings and some surgical implants.
But the team was able to use cellulose for muscle tissue growth for the first time because the fibres from the tunicates or ’sea squirts’ were easily oriented into the necessary position.
‘We took it from the sea creature because it is a model material,’ Manchester University’s Dr Stephen Eichhorn told The Engineer.
‘The whiskers are rod like, so they’re thin and long, and have a high surface area so they have good interaction with other materials.’
When the whiskers are spun at high speeds, they line up to create a framework for muscle tissue to grow around.
‘Because they’ve got rod-like geometry, you get that orientation effect,’ said Eichhorn. ‘If they were just spheres, you wouldn’t get that orientation.’
Embryonic cells called myoblasts effectively detect the oriented framework and communicate with each other before becoming myotubes, the basis for skeletal muscle fibres.
The whiskers are chemically extracted from tunicates, which are the only animals that create cellulose but typically grow on rocks in coastal waters as if they were plants.
Eichhorn said that the tunicate fibres are more slender than those taken from plants but that research is already under way to mass produce the whiskers from plant sources.
The team, which also includes Dr Julie Gough and PhD student James Dugan, is now studying how the process could be used to create a practical solution for regrowing tissue in the body.