Beijing: Chinese scientists have claimed successfully growing muscle stem cells in a test tube, a breakthrough that could potentially save the careers of top athletes besides cure untreatable injuries caused from accidents and surgeries due to cancer.

“It can generate enough stem cells to heal permanent wounds, especially those caused externally," said Hu Ping, a cell biologist with the Shanghai Institute for Biological Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Muscle stem cells are the ultimate way to cure muscle-related wounds or diseases," Hu, who served as lead author of a paper on the subject published in the latest issue of the journal Cell Research, was quoted as saying by Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

She said the technology would not only benefit athletes, but also address a wide range of medical issues such as treatments for people involved in car accidents, those who have had surgery for cancer, or sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

“This technology could cure (recently retired Chinese hurdler) Liu Xiang’s injury," Hu said, referring to Asia’s first Olympic gold medallist in the 110-metre hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics who also ranks as the continent’s first world champion hurdler.

A nagging tendon injury caused the Shanghai native to limp off the track when Beijing hosted the Summer Games in 2008. Liu retired from the sport this April, blaming his longstanding injury.

Now scientists from his hometown believe they have found a way to restore him to full health, along with millions of other patients bearing muscle-related injuries.

By transplanting the stem cells from the test tube back into the patient’s body, new muscles can regenerate in the area that was injured or malfunctioning, she said, adding that a return to full physical capability was likely.

Scientists around the world are engaging in experimental stem cell research. The problem is the paucity of such stem cells. Even though the cells can be extracted from healthy muscles fairly easily, large wounds require large numbers to be dragged over from healthy parts of the patient’s body, which poses more of a risk, Hu said.

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