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Rotator cuff tears can often be treated without surgery – for example, with rest, anti-inflammatories and stretching exercises. But surgery is sometimes necessary, and a new French study highlights how stem cells can improve healing and tendon durability following rotator cuff surgery.

The research included 90 patients who underwent rotator cuff surgery. Half of the patients received injections of bone marrow concentrate (BMC) mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) at the surgical site, while the others had their rotator cuff repaired or reattached without MSCs.

Follow-up imaging revealed that at six months, all 45 of the patients who received MSCs had healed rotator cuff tendons, compared to 30 (67%) of those who did not receive MSCs.

Longer-term results showed that the use of bone marrow concentrate also prevented further ruptures or retears. At 10 years after surgery, intact rotator cuffs were found in 39 (87%) of the MSC patients, compared to just 20 (44%) of the non-MSC patients.

Lead study author Dr. Philippe Hernigou, an orthopaedic surgeon at the University of Paris, also noted that some retears or new tears occurred after one year, and that these were more frequently associated with the control group patients who were not treated with MSCs.

The researchers concluded that the study showed a significant improvement in short-term and long-term healing outcomes through the use of BMC containing MSCs during rotator cuff repair.

The study was presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).