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Columbia University 3D prints rotator cuff repair device

The device, inspired by python teeth, nearly doubles the repair strength of rotator cuff surgeries

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According to Columbia University, Dr. Stavros Thomopoulos, a professor of orthopedics and biomedical engineering, and his team have taken inspiration from the sharp, backward-curving structure of python teeth to develop a novel medical device aimed at improving rotator cuff repair. Their work, recently published in Science Advances, leverages 3D printing technology to create a biomimetic device that nearly doubles the repair strength of rotator cuff surgeries.

Dr. Thomopoulos has focused his research on tendon-to-bone repair, which is crucial for treating rotator cuff tears. These injuries, reportedly affecting over 17 million people in the United States, annually, are particularly common among those over 65. The current surgical interventions, although necessary, have a high failure rate, especially in older patients with severe tears. Traditional methods often result in sutures tearing through tendons, a phenomenon known as ‘suture pull-through’ or ‘cheesewiring’.

The new device aims to mitigate this issue. The team’s approach involved extensive simulations, 3D printing, and experiments on cadavers to perfect the design. The result is a small, biocompatible resin array of teeth atop a curved base. These teeth, only 3mm long, are designed to grasp the tendon without cutting through it – reducing the risk of re-tearing. The base can be customized via 3D printing to fit the specific curvature of a patient’s humeral head – enhancing the device’s effectiveness and personalization.

Lead author Iden Kurtaliaj, who spearheaded the research during his PhD under the mentorship of Dr. Thomopoulos and Dr. Guy Genin, emphasized that the device integrates seamlessly with existing surgical techniques. Surgeons can incorporate the biomimetic device into their current procedures to enhance repair strength without needing to change their approach fundamentally.

Looking ahead, the Columbia University research team is developing a bioabsorbable version of the python teeth-inspired device that will degrade as the tendon heals – further improving its clinical utility. They are also preparing for a pre-submission meeting with the FDA to facilitate the transition of their innovative device to the market. This advancement represents a significant step forward in orthopedic surgery, potentially transforming the treatment landscape for rotator cuff injuries.

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