Rotator cuff (RC) tears represent a large proportion of musculoskeletal injuries attended to at the clinic and thereby make RC repair surgeries one of the most widely performed musculoskeletal procedures. Despite the high incidence rate of RC tears, operative treatments have provided minimal functional gains and suffer from high re-tear rates. The hypocellular nature of tendon tissue poses a limited capacity for regeneration. In recent years, great strides have been made in the area of tendonogenesis and differentiation towards tendon cells due to a greater understanding of the tendon stem cell niche, development of advanced materials, improved scaffold fabrication techniques, and delineation of the phenotype development process. Though in vitro models for tendonogenesis have shown promising results, in vivo models have been less successful. The present work investigates structured matrices mimicking the tendon microenvironment as cell delivery vehicles in a rat RC tear model. RC injuries augmented with a matrix delivering rat mesenchymal stem cells (rMSCs) showed enhanced regeneration over suture repair alone or repair with augmentation, at 6 and 12-weeks postsurgery. The local delivery of rMSCs led to increased mechanical properties and improved tissue morphology. We hypothesize that the mesenchymal stem cells function to modulate the local immune and bioactivity environment through autocrine/paracrine and/or cell homing mechanisms. This study provides evidence for improved tendon healing with biomimetic matrices and delivered MSCs with the potential for translation to larger, clinical animal models. The enhanced regenerative healing response with stem cell delivering biomimetic matrices may represent a new treatment paradigm for massive RC tendon tears.
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