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Injectable Therapy for Rotator Cuff Injuries in Development

Baseball pitcher

(A. Kotok/Flickr)

Biomedical engineers at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta are developing a material to be injected into torn rotator cuff tendons, a common sports injury, to speed their healing. The five-year project is led by Georgia Tech’s biomedical engineering professor Johnna Temenoff and funded by a $1 million grant from National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, part of National Institutes of Health.

The rotator cuff is made of muscles and tendons in the shoulder that connect the upper arm bone to the shoulder blade, and help hold the ball of the upper arm bone securely in the shoulder socket. It can become injured from trauma, such as a fall, or overuse from repetitive motions involved in lifting or throwing a baseball in the classic overhead pitcher’s motion.

Temenoff and colleagues are investigating a therapy for the supraspinatus tendon in the rotator cuff that gets torn in sports-related injuries. The tear in the tendon, which is made of collagen, is compounded by the activation of enzymes that result in more damage. The team from Temeroff’s lab and that of Georgia Tech collaborator Manu Platt, aims to develop a material for injection into the tendon that can block the enzyme, and thus reduce the severity of the injury, and promote its healing.

A key difference in this therapeutic approach is its strategy to treat the tendon damage much earlier in the process, while the collagen may be degrading from overuse, but before a tear occurs. “We’re studying enzymes that are known to chew up the collagen,” says Temenoff in a university statement, “and we’re looking at then delivering inhibitors to those enzymes in a local injection in the tendon to try to stop the degradation.”

The researchers are looking into an injectable material that releases the enzyme-inhibitors over time, thus delivering the substance in just one injection. They plan to study the actions of similar enzymes on shoulder tendons in animals to get a better idea of the optimal point to inject the material. The study will also look into the tissue structure and mechanics of tendons as they heal.

Temenoff’s lab studies natural and synthetic polymeric biomaterials for the regeneration of tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone. In earlier work, she and lab colleagues studied tendon injuries incurred by quarterbacks, in work funded by NFL Charities. Platt’s lab investigates mechanical and biochemical environments for repair and regeneration in health and disease, combining engineering, cell biology, and physiology.

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