Stem cells at work in the zebrafish. Photo: Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute Stem cells at work in the zebrafish. Photo: Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute
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The images are part of world-first research. Photo: Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute

The images are part of world-first research. Photo: Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute

Spectacular artwork, kaleidoscope or a groundbreaking glimpse into stem-cell science that could lead to longer, healthier lives?

If you guessed the latter, you’d be on the money.

While you’d be forgiven for wanting to hang these impressive images on your lounge room wall, they are far more than just pretty pictures. Rather, the images are part of world-first research that could help point to new ways of treating muscular dystrophy, and muscle wasting in the elderly.

The images, released by the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University, capture the first time scientists have been able to see the stem cells involved in muscle repair, directly viewed in living muscle tissue.

In this case, the cells belong to a small tropical fish called the zebrafish. Lead researcher Professor Peter Currie has dubbed the zebrafish “the champions of regeneration”.

The zebrafish, while having the same stem cells as humans, are transparent through development, which allowed scientists to capture the groundbreaking images.

Professor Currie said that in the past, stem cells had been removed and viewed in a laboratory dish, which made it virtually impossible to see how they regenerated.

The images show that during injury, surrounding cells – which usually lie dormant – are effectively lassoed in, helping to produce new, replacement cells. The different colours in the pictures represent different stem cells.

“It’s a phenomenal thing to be handed the answer, simply by looking at it,” Professor Currie said.

Professor Currie said the research, published in the latest edition of prestigious US journal Science, had huge implications for the development of potential new treatments into muscle wasting.

“A significant finding is that the wound site itself plays a pivotal role in co-ordinating the repair of damaged tissue,” he said. “If that response could be sped up, we are going to get better, or more timely, regeneration and healing.”

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