Newswise — Researchers at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) have launched a study to see if injecting a type of stem cell derived from a patient’s own fat tissue could improve healing and shoulder function after rotator cuff surgery. The cells are extracted from adipose, or fat tissue, in the patient’s abdomen and injected into the rotator cuff during the surgical repair.     

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint and enable us to raise and rotate our arms. “Rotator cuff tendon tears are among the most frequent and debilitating upper extremity injuries, with more than 4 million physician office visits and a quarter of a million surgical repairs in the U.S. annually,” said Scott Rodeo, MD, principal investigator and director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the HSS Research Institute. The center conducts research to identify and study biologic treatment options for common orthopedic conditions.

“Patients with chronic rotator cuff tears often have substantial muscle atrophy. Surgical repair of the tear does not reverse the atrophy, so a number of patients continue to experience weakness and reduced function, affecting their quality of life,” says Dr. Rodeo, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at HSS. “Our clinical trial will be the first to determine if stem cell therapy from adipose tissue can improve outcomes for patients having rotator cuff surgery.”

Numerous laboratory studies have evaluated the potential for these adipose-derived cells, known as stromal vascular fraction cells or SVFC, to enhance the repair and regeneration of orthopedic tissues, according to Dr. Rodeo. “Studies have shown that the therapeutic use of these cells improved tissue regeneration in a variety of acute and chronic musculoskeletal injury and disease models,” he says.

The current HSS study is a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial including patients undergoing arthroscopic repair of the supraspinatus, a frequently torn rotator cuff tendon. To obtain the stem cells, the patient will have a type of liposuction procedure while in the operating room that will take 10-15 minutes. The cells will be extracted from the fat tissue with a centrifuge and administered to the patient’s rotator cuff muscle and tendon in the O.R. right after the surgery is completed.

Study participants will be followed for two years after the procedure and evaluated with imaging tests, including MRI and ultrasound; strength and range-of-motion measurements; and patient-reported outcome scores. Dr. Rodeo and colleagues at HSS hypothesize that patients who receive the cell treatment during surgery will experience enhanced tissue healing, as well as improved shoulder strength and function.

“We believe the results of this study will provide information that can guide the clinical use of cell-based approaches to augment tendon healing in the rotator cuff and potentially in other areas as well, such as the Achilles tendon,” Dr. Rodeo said. “We will also gain information about the relationship between the biologic activity of the implanted cells and how this affects various clinical outcome parameters, including symptoms, strength, and structural healing.”

The study, supported by an $800,000 grant from the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation and the National Stem Cell Foundation, seeks to recruit a total of 56 participants. Anyone who would like more information is invited to email: [email protected] 

About HSS

HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the 12th consecutive year), No. 4 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2021-2022), and the best pediatric orthopedic hospital in NY, NJ and CT by U.S. News & World Report “Best Children’s Hospitals” list (2021-2022). In a survey of medical professionals in more than 20 countries by Newsweek, HSS is ranked world #1 in orthopedics for a second consecutive year (2021). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has the lowest complication and readmission rates in the nation for orthopedics, and among the lowest infection rates. HSS was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center five consecutive times. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State, as well as in Florida. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. The HSS Innovation Institute works to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The HSS Education Institute is a trusted leader in advancing musculoskeletal knowledge and research for physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, academic trainees, and consumers in more than 145 countries. The institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.


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