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Coming Soon -- Stem-Cell Surgical Thread?

Novel technique could speed repair of ligaments, tendons, study shows

FRIDAY, July 24 (HealthDay News) -- A team of John Hopkins University undergraduates say they have found a way to quickly and easily embed a person's stem cells into surgical thread, a procedure they believe may help improve healing and prevent re-injury.

The 10 biomedical engineering students developed the procedure as part of a contest sponsored by a medical technology company trying to patent the concept as a way to help patients recover from major orthopedic injuries, such as ruptured ligaments and tendons.

"Using sutures that carry stems cells to the injury site would not change the way surgeons repair the injury," student team leader Matt Rubashkin, who will be a senior in the fall, said in a university news release. "But we believe the stem cells will significantly speed up and improve the healing process. And because the stem cells will come from the patient, there should be no rejection problems."

In concept, stem cells from bone marrow drawn from a patient's hip would be quickly woven into surgical thread using the students' machine. The stem cell thread would then be used, as in conventional surgery, to stitch the ruptured tendon or other injury. The stem cells should eventually evolve into tendon or cartilage that blends into their setting while releasing growth factor proteins that hasten healing and reduce inflammation along the way.

The students, with help from orthopedists and sponsor, Bioactive Surgical Inc. of Maryland, are testing the machine and procedure on animals. Early test results show the stem cells remaining intact and attached to the sutures.

"The students exceeded all expectations. They have probably cut at least a year off of the development time of this technology, and they are definitely advancing the science in this emerging area," the inventor of the technology, Dr. Lew Schon, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine,said in the news release.

According to the students' research, about 46,000 people in the United States undergo Achilles tendon repair surgery every year. The procedure and post-surgical treatment cost about $40,000, and recovery takes up to a year.

The Baltimore students have also applied for grants to study how the embedded surgical thread could be used in other orthopedic surgeries or even cardiology and obstetrics.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University, news release, July 20, 2009

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