Scripps Clinic Medical Group

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has awarded a $2.7 million research grant to Scripps Health to explore the use of pluripotent stem cells in creating lab-grown tendon tissue for repairing rotator cuff injuries. 

Over the next three years, the initiative will be led by Darryl D'Lima, MD, PhD, director of orthopedic research for the Shiley Center for Orthopaedic Research and Education (SCORE) at Scripps Clinic on Torrey Pines Mesa. The project will begin with a discovery phase where researchers will develop lab tests to measure the makeup of tendon cells and grow the tendon material in the lab. They will also conduct animal models to demonstrate proof of concept using the biologically engineered tendons.

This innovative approach aims to benefit older patients with large to massive rotator cuff tears resulting from degeneration over time, as conventional repair surgery has a failure rate of approximately 40% for this group. The new biological approach will explore the possibility of transforming pluripotent stem cells into tendon-like cells, which will be grown into tendon tissue using bioreactors and stretched to align the electrospun fibers in the same direction as stretching occurs to resist tensile force.

The current surgical techniques for repairing rotator cuff tears involve reattaching the tendon to the head of the humerus, and while artificial and biological implants are sometimes used, none have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to replace the lost tendon tissue in large tears. This research project aims to provide new solutions for this common injury, particularly as the population ages.

The SCORE research team at Scripps Clinic includes senior staff scientist Shawn Grogan, PhD, and staff engineer Erik Dorthe, MS, in collaboration with Hiroshi Asahara, PhD, professor of molecular medicine, and the research lab of Martin Lotz, MD, at Scripps Research. Clifford Colwell Jr., MD, and Heinz Hoenecke, MD, will also advise on surgical technique and clinical translation of the technology.

CIRM is a state-funded organization that provides grant awards to support and accelerate promising stem cell research opportunities geared toward patients with unmet medical needs.