MELBOURNE scientists have made a world-first stem cell breakthrough that brings muscle repair and regeneration one step closer to reality.
Monash University's Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute can now isolate and make precursor skeletal muscle cells, which form the muscles in our body.
They have discovered a more efficient way to make them from human pluripotent stem cells, which have the ability to become any cell in the body.
The breakthrough will have immediate benefits, allowing researchers to conduct large scale trials for drugs to treat degenerative diseases.
"The other real significance of our finding is that we can also isolate the precursor cells helping us towards the ultimate goal of using them for transplantation for muscle-wasting diseases such as muscular dystrophy," Associate Professor Tiziano Barberi said.
It could also eventually also assist regeneration of the muscle in patients who lose it through trauma or cancer.
"There is an urgent need to find a source of muscle cells that could be used to replace defective muscle fibres in degenerative disease and these precursor muscle cells could be the source," he said.
Associate Professor Barberi was the first to derive skeletal muscle cells from human pluripotent stem cells in 2007.
Human pluripotent stem cells are a promising resource for use in cell-based therapies and for studying disease in a dish, but despite advancements making skeletal muscle has been a challenge.
Together with PhD student Bianca Borchin he has now developed a new effective method of generating these cells.
It allowed them to identify the protein markers in muscle precursor cells so they can single them out from the cell cultures.
He said the problem with mature cells was that they had little benefit in transplants because they would not create new muscle.
"If you transplant the mature cells you may get some temporary repair, but if you use precursor cells they will repair the fibres and some will also act as reserve to repair the cells each time new muscle is needed."
Ms Borchin said the results marked a significant step towards the use of pluripotent stem cells for muscle repair.
Associate Professor Barberi said they would now need to test the cells in animal models of the disease to see if they are effective.