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Discovery brings scientists one step closer to understanding tendon injury

Research led by Queen Mary University of London has discovered a specific mechanism that is crucial to effective tendon function, which could reveal why older people are more prone to tendon injury.

Tendons, such as the Achilles, connect muscle to bone, and are loaded repeatedly during movement. When exposed to particularly high loads, this can cause injury in some individuals. The risk of injury increases with age, but scientists have never fully understood why.

Tendon injury is common in horses as well as humans, and the team, working together with scientists from the University of Liverpool, University College London and the University of East Anglia, used tendons from horses already deceased to understand injury risk, and demonstrate the mechanism in action.

The research team found that fascicles – the subunit that makes up tendons – are coiled like a spring, or helix. They have shown that the helix structure enables tendons to stretch and recover, with results suggesting that damage to the helix stops the tendon working properly.

“The helical shape of the fascicles seems to be critical in maintaining tendon elasticity,” explains co-author Dr Hazel Screen, a Reader in medical engineering at Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science.

“Repetitive loading causes the fascicles to unwind and be less effective, triggering them to become damaged or leading to injury.”

The team also showed how ageing affects the helix.

Co-author Dr Chavaunne Thorpe said: “The findings suggest that the helix structure is altered with age resulting in a decreased ability to withstand further loading and so making aged tendons more prone to injury.”

This work was funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board and is published in the Royal Society journal Interface.

‘Fascicles from energy-storing tendons show an age-specific response to cyclic fatigue loading’ is published in the Royal Society Journal Interface on Wednesday 8 January 2014.

For more information, a copy of the paper or to arrange interviews with the authors, please contact:

Neha Okhandiar
Public Relations Manager
Queen Mary University of London
020 7882 7927
Queen Mary University of London
Queen Mary University of London is one of the UK's leading research-focused higher education institutions with some 17,840 undergraduate and postgraduate students.
A member of the Russell Group, it is amongst the largest of the colleges of the University of London. Queen Mary’s 4,000staff deliver world class degree programmes and research across 21 academic departments and institutes, within three Faculties: Science and Engineering; Humanities and Social Sciences; and the School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Queen Mary is ranked 11th in the UK according to the Guardian analysis of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, and has been described as ‘the biggest star among the research-intensive institutions’ by the Times Higher Education.
The College has a strong international reputation, with around 20 per cent of students coming from over 100 countries. Queen Mary has an annual turnover of £300m, research income worth £90m, and generates employment and output worth £600m to the UK economy each year.

The College is unique amongst London's universities in being able to offer a completely integrated residential campus, with a 2,000-bed award-winning Student Village on its Mile End campus.

Neha Okhandiar | Queen Mary University of London
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