From sea squirt to human tissue

Once again, Nature has proved a great source of inspiration – this time it’s the sea squirt, whose cellulose can influence the behaviour of skeletal muscle cells in the lab

From sea squirt to human tissue

Sea squirts can influence the behaviour of skeletal muscle cells in the lab Source University of Manchester

Nanosized whiskers of cellulose taken from the sea squirt could revolutionise healthcare and allow doctors to repair or replace diseased and damaged muscle tissue. It may even allow them to grow muscle from scratch

“Cellulose is being looked at very closely around the world because of its unique properties, and because it is a renewable resource,” said Dr Stephen Eichhorn from the University of Manchester where the research took place.

Eichhorn – together with Dr Julie Gough and PhD student James Dugan – chemically extracted cellulose in the form of nanowhiskers. When aligned and parallel to each other, they encourage rapid muscle cell alignment and fusion. This alignment is important because tissues in the body – including muscle – contain aligned fibres which give it strength and stiffness.

Cellulose extracted from tunicates is particularly well suited for making muscle tissues due to its unique properties. The polysaccharide is usually found in plants and is the main component of papers and textiles like cotton, and has already found a medical application – wound dressings.

“This is the first time that it has been used for skeletal muscle tissue engineering applications. There is potential for muscle precision engineering but also for other architecturally aligned structures such as ligaments and nerves,” Eichhorn said

Scientists hope to create the normal aligned architecture of skeletal muscle tissue, which could be used to repair existing muscle tissue and grow muscle from scratch.

“It is quite a detailed chemical process, but the potential applications are very interesting,” Eichhorn said.

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