Researchers at CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Medical Devices based at National University Ireland Galway, have shown how walking can power an implantable stimulator device to speed up treatment of musculoskeletal diseases. The research, which was published in Advanced Materials, establishes the engineering foundations for a new range of stimulator devices that enable control of musculoskeletal tissue regeneration to treat tendon damage and disease and sports injuries, without the use of drugs or external stimulation.
“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,” said Marc Fernandez-Yague, PhD, who carried out the principal research of the study at CÚRAM. “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.”
The stimulator device uses a fabric like mesh, known as a piezoelectric material, that produces electricity when stretched or put under mechanical pressure. It is made using a scaffold of nanofibers, which are one-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair.
“Importantly, our research improved the therapeutic performance of the device by enhancing its structure, piezoelectric characteristics, and biological compatibility,” Fernandez said. “We also evaluated the individual influence of mechanical, structural, and electrical cues on tendon cell function and were able to show that bioelectric cues contribute significantly in promoting tendon repair.”
“These devices are cost-effective, relatively easy to implant, and may pave the way for a whole new class of regenerative electrical therapies,” lead researcher on the study, CÚRAM Investigator Manus Biggs, PhD, said.