University of Sydney Sydney,
Australia

Researchers from the University of Sydney have collaborated with Columbia University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg to develop a synthetic material to assist in the regeneration of injured tendons and ligaments.

Australia’s love of sport means it has one of the highest rates of knee anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and reconstruction in the world. Worldwide, the costs of tendon and ligament rupture repair and surgery revision represent tens of billions of dollars of the clinical orthopedic market.

A team of biomedical engineering researchers from the University of Sydney, working with the Regenerative Engineering Laboratory at Columbia University and the FAU Erlangen-Nurnberg Institute of Medical Biotechnology (Germany), are hoping to improve the outcomes of tendon and ligament repair by developing a new synthetic scaffold for their regeneration.

Led by the Head of the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering Research Unit and Director of the Australian Research Centre for Innovative BioEngineering, Prof, Hala Zreiqat, working with postdoctoral researcher Dr. Young No, the researchers are the first to develop and patent novel fiber-reinforced hydrogel scaffolds, a synthetic substance that has the ability to mimic and replace human tendon and ligament tissue.

“Ruptures to tendons and ligaments mostly occur in accidents and when playing sport. Worldwide and particularly in Australia, there is an immense clinical need for the development of readily available, off-the-shelf, mechanically strong synthetic tendon scaffolds,” says Zreiqat, from the ARC Centre for Innovative BioEngineering, School of Biomedical Engineering and the Sydney Nano Institute.

“Conservative methods using immobilization casts and movement restricting splints and braces often require several weeks of rehabilitation to achieve minimal functional recovery, while current implants carry a higher risk of rejection and infection.

The research hopes to improve the outcomes of sport injury surgeries. (Credit: Pixabay)

“Our technology hopes to fast-track the restoration of tendons’ and ligaments’ mechanical function and support the growth of collagen tissue, without compromising the body’s biological response.”

Tested on patellar tendon models in rats, the synthetic scaffold has been developed with a stress resistance and water volume similar to real tendons and ligaments, allowing for the improved ingrowth of collagen tissue.

“Until now, synthetic scaffolds have come with a significant risk of implant failure, as well as poor biological tissue integration and abrasion,” she says.

“Human tendons and ligaments are 70 percent water — they are complicated structures that include blood vessels, nerves and lymphatic vessels and perform the task of linking bone to muscle and moving the body.

“For synthetic scaffolds to be accepted by the body, their physical and chemical architecture must align with human tendons and ligaments.”

The researchers now hope to investigate the long-term behavior of these scaffolds in both internal and external bodily conditions, as well as to observe tissue integration and biomechanics in larger animal models.

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Medical Design Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2020 issue of Medical Design Briefs Magazine.

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