A team of engineers successfully completed development of a microchip that will encourage better understanding of neuromuscular diseases like the ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). The instrument sizes somewhere near one quarter and iterates the neuromuscular junction, muscles, and the connection between different nerves in human body. As the leader of this team, Sebastien Uzel likes to explain, “The neuromuscular junction is involved in a lot of very incapacitating, sometimes brutal and fatal disorders, for which a lot has yet to be discovered. The hope is that being able to form neuromuscular junctions in vitro will help us understand how certain diseases function.”
Till date there were almost no attempts directed towards the creation of simulated neuromuscular junctions in laboratories. There were a few experiments conducted though during the seventies but none were able to register any success. It is not easy to mirror the highly complicated, 3D environment of human body in lab. Uzel and his team were lucky in addressing these challenges.
This important juncture was made through inclusion of two important characteristics in their respective microfluidic device. The first one was separation of nerves from their respective muscles and the second one was creation of a 3D environment. The two goals were accomplished through placement of nerve cells and muscles in distinct millimeter sized compartments and then filling these compartments with gel leading to creation of required 3D environment. The muscle fibers were created by using the precursor cells of a mice. The cells were completely differentiated in muscle cells and were then injected in one of the two microfluidic compartments. From that point, the cell grew all by themselves and fused within a single muscle strip.
The origin point of the nerve cells started somewhere with the motor neurons that came from stem cell cluster. These cells were first modified genetically to respond to light with a special technique known as optogenetics. Later, the team differentiated these motor neurons in neural cells and placed those in the second microfluidic compartment. The point was to include a sense of force in these muscles which was accomplished through fabrication of two very minute, flexible pillars that were placed in between the muscle cells’ compartment, this led to growth of muscle fiber around the muscles. The pillars displacement was then measured and the researchers were able to measure the mechanical force of the muscle.
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