Scientists in Glasgow are investigating a potential new therapy for the treatment of tendon injuries, such as tennis elbow and Achilles tendinitis.
This type of injury, also known as tendinopathy, accounts for a significant proportion of all sporting injuries – as much as 30-50%, according to the University of Glasgow. The new approach could encourage healing of damaged tendons.
Healthy tendons are primarily composed of type-1 collagen, a very strong material. In response to injury, the body produces the inferior type-3 collagen to quickly repair the damage. This type of collagen is not as strong as type-1 and is more prone to damage, but over time it is usually replaced by the stronger type-1.
As the University of Glasgow explains, in some cases repetitive damage means the body never replaces the weaker type-3 collagen. As a result, these people are left with inherently weaker tendons and long-term symptoms, such as pain and reduced mobility.
A new trial will use injections of microRNA – small molecules that help regulate gene expression – into the tendon to ‘dial-down´ the production of type-3 collagen and switch to type-1.
Neal Millar, an academic consultant orthopaedic surgeon and clinical senior research fellow at the University of Glasgow, commented: “Tendinopathy is essentially the result of an imbalance between collagen type-1 and type-3 and we have discovered the molecular cause. This breakthrough has allowed us to find a way to alter the levels of collagen type-3 in tendons, with the ultimate aim to get patients with tendon injuries better quicker.”
Co-investigator and senior molecular biologist Dr Derek Gilchrist added: “Our studies have revealed the previously unrecognised ability of a single microRNA to cross-regulate important functions in the early biological processes that lead to tissue repair.”
Results of previous studies by the team have been published in Nature Communications, revealing the role of the microRNA 29a in tendon tissue repair.