Health Check: University Orthopedics discovers new treatment for ACL injuries

(WJAR)

There's a potential "game-changer" in the treatment of one of the most common knee injuries.

Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, are very common. Estimates are that it affects about 400,000 people in the United States each year.

With the growth of high-level competitive youth sports, more and more teenagers -- especially girls -- are impacted

"It's actually an epidemic really for our adolescent and teenage patients,” said Michael Hulstyn, who is a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at University Orthopedics.

"The ACL is a primary stabilizer to the knee,” said Hulstyn.

It's located right in the middle of the knee.

"Oftentimes, an athlete will feel a pop or they'll hear a pop in their knee. Their knee will swell," said Dr. Brett Owens, also with University Orthopedics.

The typical fix is reconstructive surgery.

"It usually requires a tendon graft, usually from another part of their knee, and we reconstruct the ACL,” said Owens.

"It's a big operation. It can be very painful,” added Hulstyn.

That might soon change, as University Orthopedics and Rhode Island Hospital have teamed up with Boston Children's Hospital, where a bridge for enhanced ACL repair was developed for a phase three trial.

"So, the bridge is a sponge,” said Hulstyn. “It's made out of structural proteins -- what an ACL would be made out of -- and the idea is that you bridge the gap between two torn pieces of the ACL and try and get it to heal."

The sponge is first saturated with the patients’ blood.

"The great thing about blood is it stimulates healing," Hulstyn said.

And, at least in earlier studies, results have been good.

"The standard is actually reconstruction,” said Hulstyn. “That's what this whole trial is about -- figuring out whether this technique can do as well as a reconstruction."

With less pain, quicker healing times and lasting results.

They also want to know if it will reduce re-injury, which is common, and prevent arthritis down the road. They're still enrolling.

"Not all patients are eligible because of the timing, because we only have 50 days to get that patient in from time of injury to surgery,” said Owens.

So far, the surgeons at University Orthopedics have done the surgery on about six patients at Rhode Island Hospital.

It is an FDA trial, with the NFL Players Association donating millions for the research.

Future studies, which will include more sites, are planned.

For more information, click here.

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