Further studies on wallaby tendon

Wallaby tendon is not just a useful material for surgical sutures.; it can be analyzed for its elastic properties in comparison to the tendons of other animals, and can be used as a model in surgical studies. Physiologists have also been interested in the kinetics of kangaroo and wallaby hopping, to address issues such as how the creatures can maintain their gait despite lacking the “very short muscle, very long and elastic tendon” leg structures of animals like deer and horses.

Bennett's wallaby, Bruny Island, Tasmania
Bennett’s wallaby, Bruny Island, Tasmania

The recent literature on wallaby tendon is dominated by two sets of investigators.

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In the 1990s, Robert F. Ker and Xiao Tong Wang of the University of Leeds performed several studies on the mechanical properties of tendons under stress, using tendons from various different parts of the body. Their experimental system was the Bennett’s wallaby, using specimens that had been culled from Whipsnade Wild Animal Park. The quality of Wang and Ker’s data was so robust that it was used as a model for the mechanical properties of “organic materials” in general, by Ingomar L. Jäger of the University of Leoben Department of Metal Physics.

For more, see “Creep Rupture of Wallaby Tail Tendons” (1995, Journal of Experimental Biology 198:831-845); “Fatigue Rupture of Wallaby Tail Tendons” (1995, Journal of Experimental Biology 198:847-852); and the more generally applicable “Fatigue Quality of Mammalian Tendons” (2000, Journal of Experimental Biology 203:1317-1327).

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The other main avenue of research into wallaby tendon can be best summarized as “wallabies on treadmills”. This dates back to the 1970s but has been extended in the past twenty years with a multitude of studies by Andrew Biewener of Harvard; Craig McGowan of the University of Idaho; and the late Russell Baudinette of the University of Adelaide. Some highlights include:

  • Biewener AA, Konieczynski DD, Baudinette RV (1998), In vivo muscle force-length behavior during steady-speed hopping in tammar wallabies: J. Exp.Biol. 201:1681-1694 (or “wallabies on treadmills at different speeds”)
  • Biewener AA, McGowan C, Card GM, Baudinette RV (2004), Dynamics of leg muscle function in tammar wallabies (M. eugenii) during level versus incline hopping: J. Exp. Biol. 207:211-223 (or “wallabies on uphill treadmills”)
  • McGowan CP, Baudinette RV, Biewener AA (2005), Joint work and power associated with acceleration and deceleration in tammar wallabies (Macropus eugenii): J. Exp. Biol. 208:41-53 (or “wallabies speeding up and slowing down on treadmills”)
  • Gutmann AK, Lee DV, McGowan CP (2013), Collision-based mechanics of bipedal hopping: Biol Lett 9:20130418 (or “wallabies vs. kangaroo rats”)
from Biewener et al (2004)
from Biewener et al (2004)

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But before any of these studies were performed, wallaby tendon was used as a source for surgical xenografts.

In the 1980s, Dr. Klaus Schindhelm sought to improve the storage and preparation of tendons for orthopedic surgery, using kangaroo tail tendon as a model, including two studies (1, 2) in which kangaroo tendons were transplanted into sheep.

And before that — in fact, over a century ago — wallaby tendon proved its worth in restoring the vim and pep of Australian music-hall entertainer Victor Goulet, as described in this June 1920 blurb from the Wellington Evening Post.

from the Wellington Evening Post, 19 June 1920
Amazing surgeons Adelaide had in 1907!

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