Walking can power an implantable stimulator device to accelerate tendon healing
Researchers at CÚRAM, the SFI Medical Device Research Center based at NUI Galway, have shown how simply walking an implantable stimulator device can be powered to expedite the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders.
The results of were published in the renowned journal Advanced materials.
The research creates the technical basis for a new range of stimulation devices that enable the control of musculoskeletal tissue regeneration for the treatment of tendon damage and diseases as well as sports injuries without the use of medication or external stimulation.
One of the most exciting aspects of our study is that these implantable devices can be tailored to individual patients or conditions and show promise in accelerating the repair of sports-related tendon injuries, especially in athletes. “
Dr. Manus Biggs, CÚRAM investigator, lead researcher
The study investigated whether electrotherapy combined with exercise would show promise in treating tendon disease or rupture. It was shown that the function and repair of tendon cells can be controlled by electrical stimulation from an implantable device driven by body movements.
Dr. Marc Fernandez, who conducted the main research on the study at CÚRAM, said, “Successfully treating tendon damage and disease is a critical medical challenge.
“Our discovery shows that when the implanted device is stretched while walking, an electrical charge is created in the treatment target area – the damaged or injured tendon – specific regeneration processes in the damaged tendon.”
The stimulator device uses a tissue-like mesh known as a piezoelectric material that generates electricity when it is stretched or subjected to mechanical pressure. It consists of a framework made of nanofibers that are one-thousandth the thickness of a human hair
Dr. Fernandez added, “We presented an implantable, electrically active device that can control tendon regeneration and healing. Importantly, our research has improved the therapeutic performance of the device by improving its structure, piezoelectric properties, and biological compatibility.
“We also examined the individual influence of mechanical, structural and electrical stimuli on the function of the tendon cells and were able to show that bioelectrical stimuli contribute significantly to promoting tendon repair.”
Dr. Biggs added, “This unique strategy of combining a device that is powered by body movement and can induce accelerated tendon healing is expected to have a significant impact in the regenerative device field, particularly in the area of sports or trauma injuries.
“These devices are inexpensive, relatively easy to implant, and could pave the way for a whole new class of regenerative electrical therapies.”
The research was funded by the Science Foundation Ireland and in particular the SFI-BBSRC partnership program.
Fernandez-Yague, MA, et al. (2021) A piezo-bioelectric device with its own power supply regulates the signal pathways associated with tendon repair by modulating mechanisensitive ion channels. Advanced materials. doi.org/10.1002/adma.202008788.