Abstract

A major risk factor for tendinopathy is tendon overuse (i.e., fatigue loading). Fatigue loading of tendon damages the extracellular matrix and induces tissue degeneration. However, the specific mechanisms linking tendon fatigue damage with tissue degeneration are unclear. While explant models of tendon fatigue loading have been used to address this knowledge gap, they predominantly employ bioreactors that apply cyclic displacements/strains rather than loads/stresses, which are more physiologically relevant. This is because of the technical complexity and cost of building a load-controlled bioreactor, which requires multiple motors, load cells, and computationally intensive feedback loops. Here, we present a novel, low-cost, load-controlled bioreactor that applies cyclic loading to multiple tendon explants by offloading weights from a single motorized stage. Using an optional load cell, we validated that the bioreactor can effectively provide load-controlled fatigue testing of mouse and rat tendon explants while maintaining tissue viability. Furthermore, all the design files, bill of materials, and operating software are available “open source”1 so that anyone can easily manufacture and use the bioreactor for their own research. Therefore, this novel load-controlled bioreactor will enable researchers to study the mechanisms driving fatigue-induced tendon degeneration in a more physiologically relevant and cost-effective manner.

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