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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — There are close to 400,000 rotator cuff surgeries performed every year.  But their failure rate is high, ranging, by some estimates, 34 to 94 percent.

A biomedical engineer at Purdue University has developed a small patch,  grown from human cells, that could improve the success of rotator cuff surgeries.

Eric Nauman has worked on his patch, better known as BioEnthesis, for close to 17 years.  It’s gained FDA approval and is being used by surgeons at Rush Hospital in Chicago. 

“In rotator cuff surgery it’s critical to attach the muscle to the bone,” says Dr. Nauman, “and not just grow one or the other. And that’s essentially what this does. It allows the surgeon instead of say, stapling it on or holding it down and hoping they grow together-which doesn’t have the highest success rate. Now we’ve created the interface and in a short amount of time, it tricks the body to regrow the interface.”

Professor Nauman developed a prototype scaffold with both hard and soft tissue layers. The small strip attaches with standard surgical techniques. Bones and tendons connect naturally which leads to a more durable repair.

“The idea is we start with spongy bone at the ends of your femur or knee and in your spine that we can shape and demineralize the parts that are meant to become the soft tissue and remineralize parts that become bone. And your marrow stem cells will grow into this thing. And all those adult stem cells make bone, cartilage, tendons. You provide all the biology yourself.”

To look at it, the BioEnthesis is a gum strip-sized sponge-like scaffold of real human tissue.  There are two layers- soft tissue merges with the tendon and hard tissue which allows a patient’s own stem cells to populate the implant from the bone marrow.

Professor Nauman is hopeful his patch will be used for other procedures. For now, he’s carefully watching the outcome of the patients who get the patch, making sure the success rates for rotator cuff surgery improves.