Researchers have shown how the simple act of walking can power an implantable stimulator device to speed up treatment of musculoskeletal diseases. A new range of stimulator devices enables control of musculoskeletal tissue regeneration to treat tendon damage and disease and sports injuries without the use of drugs or external stimulation.

The implantable devices may be tailored to individual patients or disorders and may show promise in accelerating the repair of sport-related tendon injuries, particularly in athletes. The study investigated whether electrical therapy, coupled with exercise, would show promise in treating tendon disease or ruptures. It showed that tendon cell function and repair can be controlled through electrical stimulation from an implantable device powered by body movement.

An electrical charge is produced in the treatment target area — the damaged or injured tendon — when the implanted device is stretched during walking. The device acts 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 a piezoelectric material — that produces electricity when stretched or put under mechanical pressure. It is made using a scaffold of nanofibers that are one-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair.

The researchers evaluated the individual influence of mechanical, structural, and electrical cues on tendon cell function and showed that bioelectric cues contribute significantly to promoting tendon repair. The device is cost-effective and relatively easy to implant.

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