Athletes at all levels of competition, from youth sports to professional sports, are at risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. There are more than 150,000 ACL ruptures in the U.S. every year. Young athletes, especially females, are especially at risk. An ACL tear can typically result in a year lost to surgery and rehabilitation, and the athletes are also at a greater risk for future knee injuries.
For athletes that look to return to competition, they will usually have to undergo either allograft or autograft reconstruction. Autograft has been shown to produce stronger grafts, but since the grafts are taken from another part of the leg, usually the hamstring or patellar tendon, it results in additional weakness in those areas.
Research is currently underway to look for new methods to help patients recover from ACL injuries. One method that has proved effective in pigs is the use of a sponge to encourage ACL repair. Investigators put in a small sponge that serves as a bridge between the severed portions of the ACL. It is then flushed with the patient’s blood to encourage the growth of a clot that can bridge the tear. Early results of the study in pigs has been promising, and studies have begun in humans.
Dr. Marx is “very optimistic” surgeons eventually won’t have to use grafts from the patient’s leg to fully repair the ACL, but he isn’t sure the sponge-and-blood substitute is the solution. “Whether it will be exactly what Dr. Murray is working on or something else I don’t know.”
For more information about this emerging technique for ACL repair, please click here.