Cellulose nanowhiskers from sea squirts aid growth of
artificial human muscle
28 March 2011
Nanowhiskers made from cellulose extracted from sea squirts
have unique properties that can help grow artificial muscle, University
of Manchester researchers have discovered.
The whiskers are several thousand times smaller than muscle cells
and are the smallest physical feature found to cause cell alignment.
Alignment is important since muscle tissue contains aligned fibres
which give it strength and stiffness.
Cellulose is already used in medical applications, including
wound dressings, but this is the first time it has been proposed for
creating skeletal muscle tissue.
Tunicates (see photo above) grow on rocks and man-made structures
in coastal waters around the world. University of Manchester
academics Dr Stephen Eichhorn and Dr Julie Gough, working with PhD
student James Dugan, chemically extracted the cellulose in the form
of nanowhiskers which are 10-15 nanometres diameter.
When aligned by spin coating on a flat surface, the cellulose
whiskers cause muscle cells to align and fuse. The method is
both simple and relatively quick, which could lead to doctors and
scientists having the ability to create the normal aligned
architecture of skeletal muscle tissue.
This tissue could be used to help repair existing muscle or even
grow muscle from scratch. Creating artificial tissue which can be
used to replace damaged or diseased human muscles could
revolutionise healthcare, and be of huge benefit to millions of
people all over the world.
Dr Eichhorn thinks the cellulose extracted from the creatures
could lead to a significant medical advancement. He added: “Although
it is quite a detailed chemical process, the potential applications
are very interesting.
“Cellulose is being looked at very closely around the world
because of its unique properties, and because it is a renewable
resource, but 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
PhD student James Dugan has become the first UK student to win
the American Chemical Society’s Cellulose and Renewable Material
Division award for his work on nanowhiskers.