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Skeletal Muscle Cells Made in Abundance From Human Stem Cells Can Help SMA patients

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found a new way to produce skeletal muscle cells and muscle progenitors in large numbers from human stem cells. The finding has been described in the journal  Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Under the new method, muscle progenitors and muscle cells can be made directly from either embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells. To be coaxed into muscle cells and progenitor cells, the pluripotent stem cells are grown as floating spheres in high concentrations of two growth factors, epidermal growth factor and fibroblast growth factor-2. The uniqueness of this technique is that is allows producing much larger number of cells of interest without applying genetic modification that is required for generating muscle cells under current techniques.

The new technique can be applied to grow muscle cells from induced pluripotent stem cells for patients suffering from neuromuscular diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy, muscular dystrophy, and ALS. Apart from producing cells to be applied for diseases treatment, the technique could allow getting in dish adult muscle cells that carry genetic diseases mentioned above. These cells could be used for research purposes such as studying these diseases and / or screening potential medicines.

There are a few advantages the new technique provides. First of all, the cells are cultured on media that do not contain animal products such as bovine serum, thus, muscle stem cells are more clinically safe. Secondly, the cells grow faster in spheres than with previous techniques. Thirdly, muscle cells or muscle progenitors account for 40 to 60 percent of the cells grown under the technique, which is far beyond the capabilities of traditional non-genetic techniques of producing muscle cells from human embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells.

The team is expecting that further manipulations of the chemical environment of media for stem cell growth may ease the path toward treating humans with currently incurable degenerative neuromuscular diseases.