doi:10.1038/nindia.2014.131 Published online 29 September 2014
Researchers have developed an efficient hybrid gel that can be used as a scaffold for growing muscle fibres, known as myotubes1. They prepared the gel by blending gelatin fibres with multiwalled carbon nanotubes. The gel is potentially useful for artificially growing muscle cells, which can be harvested to replenish lost muscle tissue.
An ideal scaffold for engineering muscle tissue should mimic the cellular microenvironment, which contains extracellular matrix, neighbouring cells and growth factors, as such an environment facilitates cell proliferation, migration and differentiation — processes that lead to tissue formation.
To artificially replicate a cellular microenvironment suitable for tissue engineering, the researchers synthesized hybrid fibres by blending gelatin with different concentrations of multiwalled carbon nanotubes. They then tested the effectiveness of these fibres as scaffolds for growing myotubes from mice myoblasts — embryonic cells that give rise to myotubes. They also compared the effectiveness of the hybrid fibres for forming myotubes with that of pure gelatin fibres.
The researchers found that after culturing for four days, myoblasts formed myotubes on the pure gelatin fibres. They observed that hybrid fibres containing carbon nanotubes were better than pure gelatin fibres for forming myotubes from myoblasts and for growing longer myotubes. The hybrid fibres improved the interaction between the myoblasts and the scaffold, triggering tissue formation. The researchers noticed that the hybrid fibres activated specific genes in myoblasts, accelerating the fusion of myoblasts, which is essential for forming myotubes.
The researchers say that the hybrid fibres combine the ability of gelatin to support cellular activity with the mechanical properties of carbon nanotubes. They say that this combination of properties could potentially be used to develop three-dimensional cell cultures for tissue engineering.