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A first -- lab creates cells used by brain to control muscle cells
Date:11/22/2011

could safely and ethically be tested on living humans. The technique could potentially be more effective than testing in mice and other animals currently used to screen promising drug candidates and to develop other medical treatments.

Such conventional animal testing is not only slow and expensive, but often leads to failures that might be overcome with better testing options. The limitations of conventional testing options have dramatically slowed the emergence of new drugs, Hickman said.

The successful UCF technique began with a collaborator, Brown University Professor Emeritus Herman Vandenburgh, who collected muscle stem cells via biopsy from adult volunteers. Stem cells are cells that can, under the right conditions, grow into specific forms. They can be found among normal cells in adults, as well as in developing fetuses.

Nadine Guo, a UCF research professor, conducted a series of experiments and found that numerous conditions had to come together just right to make the muscle and spinal cord cells "happy" enough to join and form working junctions. This meant exploring different concentrations of cells and various timescales, among other parameters, before hitting on the right conditions.

"Right now we rely a lot on animal systems for medical research but this is a pure human system," Guo said. "This work proved that, biologically, this is workable."

Besides being a key requirement for any complete human-on-a-chip model, such nerve-muscle junctions might themselves prove important research tools. These junctions play key roles in Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in spinal cord injury, and in other debilitating or life threatening conditions. With further development, the team's techniques could be used to test new drugs or other treatments for these conditions even before more expansive chip-based models are developed.


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Contact: Barbara Abney
barb.abney@ucf.edu
407-823-5139
University of Central Florida
Source:Eurekalert  

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