These muscle cells were grown in a lab, but they are indistinguishable from what you grow in your body. They jump when shocked with electricity. They respond to drugs just the way cells in your muscles would. And they are about to revolutionize our understanding of medicine.
Sure, watching a muscle cell twitch as it receives electric shocks isn't all that impressive. Luigi Galvani did the same thing with a frog leg over two hundred years ago. The difference is, Galvani didn't make the frog.
This muscle tissue is the first of its kind to do what it's doing, but the twitching we see in the video above isn't its most impressive feat. What's impressive is that the muscle cell reacts to drugs exactly the way a regular muscle cell would react to them.
Researchers at Duke took very-slightly-developed human stem cells, placed them along a scaffolding, and encouraged them to develop into muscle fiber. While such muscle fibers have been created before, this was the first time lab-made muscle fibers twitched and got drugged the way the fibers inside a human body do.
It would be wrong to say that this sets the stage for a lot of exciting medicine, because the last thing anyone wants is for medicine to be exciting - especially if they're the patient. This sets the stage for very safe, calm, boring medicine — because doctors could test drugs on disembodied muscle fibers, making sure the drugs are safe and effective before they even get into the human system. If doctors have doubts about a particular patient, they can even grab cells from that patient, build up some muscle fiber, and figure out how the drug works just on that one person.
In the not-too-distant future, your drugs could be tested for you — by you.