Motion-powered mesh accelerates healing of damaged tendons
Over the past few years, we've looked at a number of futuristic bandages and implants that accelerate healing in the human body by converting energy from movement into electrical currents that zap wounds, repair injured muscles and even heal broken bones. A new study has adapted this technology to treat damaged tendons, culminating in a novel implant that acts as a "switch" to turn on highly targeted regenerative processes.
The research carried out by scientists at the National University of Ireland-Galway makes use of piezoelectric materials that generate electrical currents when subjected to mechanical pressure. These materials have formed the basis of research into many forward-thinking technologies, such as shoes, roads and even chin straps that harvest energy from chewing. The authors of this new study sought to explore its potential in regenerating damaged tendons.
This involved fabricating a novel stimulator device, consisting of nanoscale fibers each one thousandth of a human hair in thickness, which were fashioned into a fabric-like, piezoelectric mesh.
The scientists wanted to investigate whether this mesh could provide a kind of electrical stimulation that works in combination with exercise to treat damaged tendons, and put it to the test in in vitro experiments and in rats with acute achilles injuries. The team's experiments showed that the device could be powered by the simple act of walking, and that in applying electrical currents to the site of an injury, it activates tissue regeneration signaling specific to the tendon.
“Successful treatment of tendon damage and disease represents a critical medical challenge," says study author Dr Marc Fernandez. “Our discovery shows that an electrical charge is produced in the treatment target area – the damaged or injured tendon – when the implanted device is stretched during walking. The potential gamechanger here is like a power switch in a cell – the electrical stimulus turns on tendon-specific regenerative processes in the damaged tendon.”
By showing that these electrical cues can stimulate tendon repair, the scientists hope to add a new option to the tool kit of orthopaedic surgeons, and perhaps sidestep the need for tendon grafting or drug treatments.
“This unique strategy of combining a device which is powered through body-movement and which can induce accelerated tendon healing is expected to significantly impact the field of regenerative devices, specifically in the area of sports or trauma associated injuries," says lead researcher Dr Manus Biggs. "These devices are cost-effective, relatively easy to implant and may pave the way for a whole new class of regenerative electrical therapies.”
The research was published in the journal Advanced Materials.