Achilles tendon injuries are a common problem both for professional and recreational athletes. Surgical procedures are often the chosen course of treatment, with the operation followed by a rehabilitation programme. The healing process is slow and complicated, not to mention that the injured tendon may not return to its previous strength and functionality. But researchers from MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore believe that healing can greatly benefit from the inclusion of stem cells in the repair process.
The research team established this through an animal model study, using 54 rats as their subjects. Their findings have been published in the current issue of the Foot & Ankle International journal.
The ruptured Achilles tendons of the rats were repaired in one of three ways. Through a random selection, some animals underwent repair through suture only (SO), others had the injury site treated with suture plus injection (SI) of mesenchymal stem cells and the rest received treatment involving suture loaded with stem cells (SCS).
Half of the rats were sacrificed and their Achilles tendons harvested 14 and 28 days after the operation. Biomechanical testing and histologic analysis revealed that ultimate failure strength was significantly higher in the SI and the SCS groups compared to the SO group. However, the SCS group also maintained strength 28 days after surgery, which was not the case in the SI group. With regard to histology, the SCS group significantly outperformed the other two groups.
In the concluding remarks of their report, the US researchers note that their findings point to the benefits of using stem cells in Achilles tendon repair. Using sutures loaded with stem cells is particularly beneficial in the early stages of healing.