The implants were able to restore some of the lab mice's back muscle power to 70 percent of its original state. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Scientists from Wake Forest University are taking a more biological approach to solving the problem of repairing muscle damage from disease or injury. Rather than choosing to focus on robotic implants and aids, they chose to go right back to nature, and have created muscle implants that induce the regeneration and repair of lost muscle tissue.
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The researchers hope to tackle the problem in the best way to deal with large muscle injuries.
"While the body has a capacity to repair small defects in skeletal muscle, the only option for larger defects is to surgically move muscle from one part of the body to another. This is like robbing Peter to pay Paul," said George Christ, Ph.D., a professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's Institute for Regenerative Medicine and one of the authors of the paper.
"Rather than moving existing muscle, our aim is to help the body grow new muscle."
The team of scientists hopes that this technology could be used to help children with a cleft lip or palate.
They did this by extracting cells from muscle tissue in rats and mice. They then placed these cells onto a strip of neutral biocompatible material derived from a pig bladder. Some of these strips were "exercised" for the first five minutes of every hour for a week by a computer-controlled device that expanded and contracted the strips to teach the strips how human muscle behaves.
These strips were then implanted into lab mice with half of large back muscle missing. Mice whose strips had been exercised regained far more muscle power and function than those whose strips were implanted with no previous exercise.
"The implant that wasn't exercised, or pre-conditioned, was able to accelerate the repair process, but recovery then stopped," said Christ. "On the other hand, when you exercise the implant, there is a more prolonged and extensive functional recovery. Through exercising the implant, you can increase both the rate and the magnitude of the recovery."
Mice with strips that were exercised and had extra cells added throughout the process did even better.
"If these same results were repeated in humans, the recovery in function would clearly be considered significant," said Christ. "Within two months after implantation, the force generated by the repaired muscle is 70 percent that of native tissue, compared to 30 percent in animals that didn't receive repair."