Researchers in Ireland have developed an implantable device that accelerates the healing of damaged tendons. Engineers at CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Medical Devices based at National Univerity of Ireland in Galway, studied how the bioelectrical stimulation implant affected tendon cell regeneration and repair. The research team published their findings in the journal Advanced Materials in August 2021.

The CÚRAM engineers created the implant using piezoelectric mesh — a matrix of nanofibers 1000 times smaller than a strand of hair — which generates electricity when stretched. When implanted at the site of a tendon injury, walking stretches the material, creating an electrical charge within the damaged tissue. 

Bioelectrical stimulation via the device triggers the regrowth of tendon-specific cells, an advantage over surgical treatments using sutures or tissue grafts. These standard treatments result in “disorganized tissue deposition” which may lead to scar tissue formation and inflammation, compromising full healing and interfering with tendon functionality. 

In contrast, regeneration of tendon-specific cells can result in stronger tissue repair and may fully restore function and mobility. Furthermore, the research demonstrated that the implant resulted in faster repair in Achille’s tendon damage in rats. That’s a plus for athletes and others with sports-related injuries, which sometimes take months of limited movement to heal properly.

Similar body-powered bioelectric stimulator implants could be tailored to treat different musculoskeletal disorders or customized to the needs of the individual patient. The team expects their research to usher in a new class of implantable stimulator devices. Implantation of the low-cost device is a simple, quick procedure, positioning such devices to become the new gold standard in the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries and degenerative disease.