We have developed a novel cell stretching device (called Cell Gym) capable of applying physiologically relevant low magnitude strains to tenocytes on a collagen type I coated membrane. We validated our device thoroughly on two levels: (1) substrate strains, (2) cell level strains. Our cell level strain results showed that the applied stretches were transferred to cells accurately (∼90%). Our gene expression data showed that mechanically stimulated tenocytes (4%) expressed a lower level of COL I gene. COX2 gene was increased but did not reach statistical significance. Our device was then tested to see if it could reproduce results from an in vivo study that measured time-dependent changes in collagen synthesis. Our results showed that collagen synthesis peaked at 24 hrs after exercise and then decreased, which matched the results from the in vivo study. Our study demonstrated that it is important to incorporate physiologically relevant low strain magnitudes in in vitro cell mechanical studies and the need to validate the device thoroughly to operate the device at small strains. This device will be used in designing novel tendon tissue engineering scaffolds in the future.

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