US researchers have found a way to regenerate rotator cuff tendons after they are torn.
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and tendons that surround the top of the upper arm bone known as the humerus. The cuff holds your arm in the shoulder joint, but it can become torn either through a single event like lifting a heavy weight or having a fall, or just through general wear and tear.
Depending on how big the tear is, surgery may be required — and the new research could improve the success rate of rotator cuff repair surgery.
“Up to 60% of the time after surgery, there’s a re-rupture,” explained Dr Cato Laurencin, Van Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at UConn Health (the University of Connecticut Health Center). As a result, patients have to undergo further surgery or learn to live with reduced mobility in the joint.
Using a nano-textured fabric seeded with stem cells, Dr Laurencin and colleagues were able to get torn rotator cuff tendons to regenerate in animals. According to UConn Health, not only did the tendons wrapped in the fabric make a better attachment to the bone, they were stronger overall, with a cell structure that looked more like natural, undamaged tissue. Tendons repaired with a purely surgical technique healed with a more disorganised cell structure, making the tendon itself weaker and more prone to failure.
The combination of the “nano-mesh” with stem cells also seems to be more effective than simply injecting stem cells into rotator cuff repairs because it provides an attractive habitat for the stem cells to stick around. They then send out signals directing other cells to align and grow into tendon tissue.
Once the tendon is fully regenerated, the polymer mesh can dissolve.
The findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.