Enzyme link to tendon trouble | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - November 2007

Enzyme link to tendon trouble

Tendonitis — when the tendon becomes inflamed — is not a well understood condition, even though it affects many thousands of people each year. Progress is being made though. A little-known family of enzymes could hold a key to unlocking some of the mystery of tendon diseases, and funding from Action Medical Research has been the launch pad for a valuable laboratory-based study.

Tendons are the tough, stringy cords that link our muscles to the bones. When a tendon is torn or becomes inflamed it can cause serious pain, and while some people’s symptoms come on gradually as a tendon slowly deteriorates, others suddenly find themselves in agony when a tendon tears during exercise.

Now researchers at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, have shown that production of an enzyme called MMP-23 is increased in painful Achilles tendons and they are studying its role in the development of tendon problems generally.


It is cutting-edge work by a team with a long history in the field. Action Medical Research gave a total of £88,300 to help them get a better understanding of MMP-23, finding out whether it is good or bad for tendons and potentially paving the way for the development of new treatments.

Tendon problems are very common. About a quarter of patients visiting their GP with musculoskeletal difficulties are thought to suffer from tendonopathy (tendon disorder) or a related condition. Tendon trouble can be serious, requiring surgery to repair the damage. Dr Graham Riley, who led the team in Cambridge and has recently moved to the School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia to continue his research, says,”We have worked closely with surgeons, who provided us with tissue samples to use in the laboratory. We suspect MMP-23 may have an important role in chronic tendon disease, but very little is known about it.

“Thanks to our latest research we now know that of several forms of MMP-23, just one type is produced by tendon cells, and we suspect that this may degrade the tendon in some way, possibly causing pain and mobility problems.We are now concentrating on finding out exactly what it does, and the money from Action Medical Research has been crucial in getting us this far. “We are still many years away from a pharmaceutical answer to the problems caused by damaged tendons, but we are making steady progress and have a firm foundation for future work.”

Dr Riley will be collaborating with experts in Canada this year in his quest for more answers. If MMP-23 does indeed have a role in tendon degeneration, it will become an obvious target for drug therapy in years to come and a drug could potentially be designed to block its activity.

He adds: “There are already some drugs which we know impact on the MMP enzymes, and it may be possible in a few years time to trial some of those to see if they can help prevent or repair tendon damage.This sort of study cannot be rushed, but the grants from Action Medical Research have been a springboard for us and have paved the way for more work on the subject of tendon damage.”

A generous contribution towards the costs of this project was made by the Barnwood House Trust. TL

Putting millions into mobility

Action Medical Research has a long history of supporting research into conditions which cause mobility problems.The Charity is currently backing a wide variety of projects including research into: • osteoporosis • muscular dystrophy • improving arm function after stroke • cerebral palsy • dystonia (a condition characterised by painful muscle contractions and spasms) • improving fracture healing • rheumatoid arthritis • motor neurone disease • Huntington’s disease.

There are more besides, and in terms of financial commitment, it all adds up to almost £2 million of support.

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