Developing stronger muscles does not require exercise, protein shakes, or even Popeye-sized helpings of spinach. It requires gelatin – well, that’s assuming the muscles in question are those being grown in a culture dish. Such laboratory-grown muscle is an essential tool for studying muscle development, disease and for testing potential muscle treatments. But scientists have had a problem: cultured muscle fibres are puny. That’s because after a week or so of growth on regular synthetic substrates, the cells begin to detach, weakening the muscle fibre. Growing muscle cells (pictured) on a newly engineered hydrogel substrate composed of gelatin, however, improves cellular adhesion and in turn muscle integrity. Gelatin is a derivative of collagen, a protein of the extracellular matrix, which holds cells together in the body. The more robust anchoring of the cells enables them to grow longer and thicker and thus to more accurately reflect muscles of the body.
Written by Ruth Williams
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