New approach to ACL repair

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: July 3rd, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Weekend warriors, heal thyself? When it comes to an important knee ligament, until now that command has been virtually impossible to follow.

Now, a new surgical technique may someday overcome the torn A-C-L’s inability to completely heal.

In our increasingly fitness-conscious nation, sports injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament, or A-C-L, are bringing more of the action to doctor’s offices and hospitals.

Unfortunately a torn A-C-L typically heals badly. Surgery to stitch the knee ligament back together most often results in either a re-torn A-C-L, or a weakened, unstable joint. Instead, doctors prefer to treat the problem by replacing the A-C-L.

Reconstructing a torn A-C-L is now a common procedure, with more than fifty-thousand hospital admissions per year.

In a new twist on an old procedure, orthopaedic surgeons from at Children’s Hospital in Boston came up with the idea to promote healing by building a collagen bridge to connect the two halves of a torn A-C-L. The bridge gives repair cells a base camp where they can get established and not be washed away by fluids in the knee. From there the cells can begin to heal the ligament and return it to its previous strength.

The research was done with pigs, which have a knee anatomy similar to humans. Researcher say it will take about two to three years to know whether the healed A-C-Ls in these animals are durable before they can test the bridge technique in humans. Until then, weekend warriors, tread lightly.