In a novel study, researchers in Australia are using food thickener used in yoghurts and jellies to develop artificial muscle.
Nanotechnology graduate Cameron Ferris, and supervisor Dr. Marc in het Panhuis, of the University of Wollongong, have developed a scaffold with the help of gellan gum-a biopolymer produced by the bacteria Pseudomonas elodea, that can help get cells to grow into the right kind of tissue.
"At home it's used as a food additive. You'll find it in lots of yoghurts and jellies as a thickener and emulsifier," ABC Online quoted Ferris as saying.
Gellan gum is particularly useful because it becomes a gel at 37 degree Celsius, which is a good temperature for living cells, he adds.
Using the novel scaffold, the researchers are trying to develop artificial heart muscle that may soon be used to replace damaged parts of the heart in heart attacks patients.
"Muscle and heart need electrical stimulation for the cells to achieve their fully differentiated functioning state," said Ferris.
To achieve this, Ferris has made a scaffold that mixes the gellan gum with carbon nanotubes, which conduct electricity.
To date, Ferris has successfully grown fibroblasts on his gellan gum and carbon nanotube scaffold but has "steered away" from using carbon nanotubes because of "unanswered questions" over their safety.
"Some (studies) say they're fine and that they can be passed out of the body when the scaffold degrades," he said.
"Others have said that they're quite toxic to cells or can accumulate in the lungs," he added.
The study has been published in the journal Soft Matter.