This study was designed to investigate the effectiveness of a novel tissue-engineered three-dimensional collagen implant on healing of a large tendon-defect model, in vivo. Forty rabbits were divided into two equal groups: treated and control. A 2cm full-thickness gap was created in the left Achilles tendons of all the rabbits. To maintain the gap at the desired length (2cm), a Kessler suture was anchored within the proximal and distal ends of the remaining tendon. In the treated group a collagen implant was inserted in the gap while in the control group the gap was left unfilled. At weekly intervals the animals were examined clinically and their Achilles tendons tested bioelectrically. The hematological parameters and the serum Platelet-Derived Growth Factor of the animals were analyzed at 60 days post injury (DPI) immediately prior to euthanasia. Their injured (left) and normal contralateral Achilles tendons were harvested and examined at gross morphologic level before being subjected to biomechanical testing, and biophysical and biochemical analysis. The treated animals showed superior weight-bearing and greater physical activity than their controls. New dense tendinous tissue with a transverse diameter comparable to that of intact tendons filled the defect area of the treated tendons and had entirely replaced the collagen implant, at 60 DPI. In control lesions the defect was filled with loose areolar connective tissue similar to subcutaneous fascia. Treatment significantly improved the electrical resistance, dry matter, hydroxyproline content, water uptake and water delivery characteristics, of the healing tissue, as well as maximum load, yield load, maximum stress, yield stress and modulus of elasticity of the injured treated tendons compared to those of the control tendons (P<0.05). Use of this three-dimensional collagen implant improved the healing of large tendon defects in rabbits.
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