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New muscle microscope

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Biology and medicine are still in their scientific adolescence, and one of the clearest demonstrations of this is the surprisingly primitive state of our understanding of how muscle cells work. You wouldn’t think so looking at a textbook full of complicated diagrams of sarcomeres and the arcane biological details of energy metabolism, but there are still profound gaps in our knowledge. The business of muscle cell contraction is all conducted on a nearly invisible (molecular) scale. But to truly understand pathology, you have to really understand how something works in the first place, and one of the best ways to do that is to see it. And, in a real sense, we have never actually seen muscle cell engines at work.

Which is why this new muscle microscope is quite a big deal:

A team of Stanford researchers has developed a microscope that can visualize and measure the force-generating contractions of these patients’ individual motor units. This action has been studied for nearly 100 years, but this is the first time it has ever been observed in the muscles of a living human.

Good job, Stanford!

This is one of those science stories I don’t really know what to do with: it’s just neat, and it’s about muscle, so it belongs on, and in the bibliography, even if I don’t know how I’ll be citing it.