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Future Tense: Stem-Cell Surgical Thread

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Technology: Stem-cell surgical thread

Developers: Bioactive Surgical Inc. of Maryland and biomedical engineering students at Johns Hopkins University

Purpose: To improve healing and reduce the likelihood of reinjury for debilitating orthopedic injuries such as ruptured tendons

Early adopter: Still being tested at Johns Hopkins University

How it works: A physician would withdraw stem cells from bone marrow in a patient's hip while the patient was under anesthesia. The stem cells would then be woven into the surgical thread. The surgeon would then use the sutures embedded with stem cells to repair the ruptured tendon or ligament.

Potential improvement: The stem cells should reduce inflammation and release growth factor proteins that would substantially speed up the healing process and reduce the likelihood of reinjury. There should not be rejection problems, because the stem cells would come from the patient and would eventually become replacement tissue such as tendon or cartilage.

What's next: The student design team, with the help of Bioactive Surgical and orthopedic surgeons, is testing the procedure on animals. Human trials should begin within roughly five years. The project team is also investigating other applications in cardiology and obstetrics.

Carrie Vaughan

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