Tendons are susceptible to injury or tendinopathies due to many stressors including age, body weight, nutrition, excessive loading or forces, poor training techniques and environmental conditions. Tendons connect muscle to bone and passively modulate forces during locomotion to provide additional stability by their ability to stretch under tension.
Healthy tendons are composed of parallel collagen molecules which form fibrils. These fibrils then assemble into fascicles, which in turn make up the tendon fibre. The orientation of the collagen molecules is important because it is this alignment that gives the tendon its mechanical properties such as tensile strength.
At the University of Liverpool Senior Research Assistant, Dr Caroline Smith and her colleagues are working to advance the treatment of tendon injuries by using a Linkam TST350 stage.
To understand the development of orientated collagen under stress Dr. Smith is using the optical technique of reflection anisotropy spectroscopy to study mouse fibroblast cells subjected to regular uniaxial stress.
Mouse fibroblast cells were cultured on specially designed small wells fabricated from polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and were subjected to cyclic stress for 7 days. After this the cells could be investigated under the microscope.
There are many conflicting opinions on how best to heal a tendon injury, and when is a tendon healed sufficiently to begin exercising it. This is crucial in accident rehabilitation as currently a severe injury can end a sportspersons career.
This is an ongoing topic of research where developments are occurring every day. Our new stage has helped scientists push forward medical research and has opened up a whole new way of looking at how the collagen cells react to mechanical stress.
By Caroline Feltham