New Study: Direct mechanical stimulation could be the future of musculoskeletal repair


May 13, 2016

Topic: New Study: Direct mechanical stimulation could be the future of musculoskeletal repair

Researchers from Harvard University's Wyss Institute have investigated the use of alternative, mechanical-based therapies to aid with skeletal muscle injury recovery.

Chronic skeletal muscle injuries are somewhat common, and tend to occur after severe accidents, like car crashes and other traumatic events, such as falls or sports injuries. According to the Journal of Bone and Joint surgery, although muscles can quickly overcome mild injury, the recovery process for more extensive muscle trauma can be long and complicated. Nerve damage and the formation of scar tissue and fibrosis hinders the body's natural recovery efforts, leading to a loss of function and long-term permanent damage. Severe skeletal muscle damage is highly problematic for long-term health because, as Harvard University's Wyss Institute detailed, healthy skeletal muscle aids with body processes such as breathing and posture. Therefore any significant damage to the muscles can engender a slew of health problems in patients

New study from Harvard's Wyss Institute investigates efficacy of mechanical stimulation therapy
While medications and cell-based therapies have traditionally been used to promote muscle growth after severe trauma, chemistry-based therapy hasn't proven to be especially effective. Consequently, researchers from Harvard University's Wyss Institute have investigated the use of alternative, mechanical-based therapies to aid with skeletal muscle injury recovery. Study authors suggested that mechanical therapies that directly stimulate the damaged tissue could aid with healing in a significant way. 

Harvard University's Wyss Institute is composed of specialized teams dedicated to researching and engineering innovative new mechanobiology treatments. The research pertaining to skeletal muscle injury and mechanical treatment was published on January, 16, 2016 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers from Harvard investigated mechanical treatment options for skeletal muscle damage.Researchers from Harvard investigated mechanical treatment options for skeletal muscle damage.

Details of the study
Lead by bioengineering specialist David Mooney, Ph.D., researchers involved in the project scrutinized the efficacy of two potentially revolutionary new treatments: A robotic cuff that sits on the outside of the body and a magnetic biocompatible gel that needs to be inserted surgically. Both treatments work by massaging damaged tissue on a regular basis. The gel massages the muscle area by receiving magnetic pulses, while the cuff is powered by pulses of air that allow the device to cyclically massage the damaged tissue from the outside. Both treatments were tested on two separate groups of mice - one group received the internal gel treatment and the other was fitted with external cuffs. The new technology was inspired by the knowledge that muscle stimulation more effectively transports oxygen and nutrients to the site, and removes waste, which is absolutely imperative for successful recovery. 

What did researchers discover?
The results of the study were incredibly promising. Researchers found that tissue scarring had been reduced significantly over a two-week period, and that muscle regeneration had demonstrated a two-fold improvement. As a corollary, muscle function was notably improved in the test mice, leading researchers to conclude the treatments hold enormous promise for the future of musculoskeletal damage treatment. The scientists even went so far as to suggest that mechanical treatments could one day feature alongside drug-based therapies in treatment plans, or even replace them altogether. 

"Muscle regeneration in test mice demonstrated a two-fold improvement."

A lead researcher involved with the project, Christine Cezar, Ph.D., elaborated on the significance of the findings.

"Until now most approaches to muscle regeneration have been biologic, relying on the use of drugs or cells," she said.

Our finding that mechanical stimulation alone is enough to enhance muscle repair could open the door to new non-biologic therapies, or even combinatorial therapies that employ both mechanical and biological interventions to treat severely damaged skeletal muscles."

Boom in innovation in field of orthopaedic care
The findings from the scientists at the Wyss Institute come amid the development of a number of other technological innovations in the field of orthopaedic care. For example, a new piece of technology designed by scientists at the University of Florida could help alleviate lower back pain, especially in elderly patients experiencing the condition. The researchers engineered a small external device, powered by a battery that can deliver electrical stimulation to areas of pain. The study proved to be successful, with over half of all participants reporting a reduction of symptoms while resting. The discovery points to an overall shift away from a focus on drug-based therapies and a movement toward the design of new mechanical treatment options. 


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