Final Report: Dr Davina Simoes – Using innovative imaging of 3D-engineered muscle to help develop new treatments for muscle wasting diseases

Key findings from Dr Davina Simoes’ pilot study final report: Using innovative imaging of 3D-engineered muscle to help develop new treatments for muscle wasting diseases

Sarcopenia is a muscle wasting condition affecting nearly a third of elderly people and can lead to frailty, disability and early death. It’s underlying causes aren’t fully understood and no approved drug treatment is available for sarcopenia, with most of the studies involving animal experiments..

Dr Davina Simoes, has developed an animal-free 3D muscle organoid, known as a ‘myooid’ (a mini version of a muscle) and partnered with Canopy Biosciences, a private ChipCytometry technology enterprise to study this disease. Read more in her pilot summaries here and here. Here are the key findings from these studies..

  • Successful production of a new generation of muscle organoids, similar in structure and function to human muscle, representing a potential new platform for testing and studying human sarcopenia and replacing the use of animals
  • Novel use of ChipCytometry, already established for inflammation, using high-quality imaging and analysis software, to create an accurate ‘biomarker’ map (akin to biological signposts) of muscle tissue growth. Optimisation of this technique means that, for the first time, it can be used to pinpoint and measure biomarkers important in sarcopenia. This could help precisely map how muscle growth is controlled and determine if some of the extracellular matrix (cell scaffold) components drive sarcopenia.
  • Successful partnership between The University of Northumbria, Animal Free Research UK, and ‘Canopy Biosciences’, a private ChipCytometry technology enterprise. As Canopy Biosciences has partnerships with leading labs in universities across the globe, this project will facilitate collaborations beyond the UK that will help to advance knowledge of sarcopenia using ChipCytometry.
  • Antibodies that are validated and currently used for ChipCytometry are produced in animals. Dr Simoes has validated several animal-free antibodies for ‘immune profiling’, compatible with ChipCytometry.  Antibody optimisation is currently being conducted to improve ChipCytometry data acquisition. . This new evidence that fully animal-free antibodies can be effectively used for ChipCytometry paves the way for many more animal-free experiments using this technology.
  • Replacement of animal-derived biomaterial. All solutions and reagents used in this research were animal-free. Dr Simoes successfully substituted bovine serum albumin (which comes from blood harvested from cattle at slaughter) with a protein, (genetically engineered albumin) produced in rice.
  • This work could lead to a deeper understanding of the role of particular molecules within muscle cells that drive sarcopenia and could enable researchers to work towards a more personalised and effective approach to developing treatments for people


3D-muscle bundles visualised using a high resolution microscope by using a stain that attaches to proteins in the extracellular matrix (surrounding scaffold) of healthy (left panel) and sarcopenic (right panel) muscle. The 3D-sarcopenic muscle shows a lack of tissue organisation and structure