Oct 10, 2018Surgical Breakthroughs
What happens when an athlete needs a ligament reconstruction? Traditionally, the answer has been to borrow a tendon or graft from another location in the body and try to get it to do the torn ligament’s job. But what if you could simply print out a new ligament instead?
According to a story produced by KRQE, that is the premise behind a study taking place at the University of New Mexico. Here, Christina Salas, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, is attempting to create synthetic ligaments using a 3-D printer.
Dr. Salas’ technique would involve taking a CT or MRI scan of the injured person’s joint and producing an “exact replica” of it via 3-D printing. This would allow doctors to create an artificial ligament that would fit perfectly, and, she believes, function better than a replacement tendon would.
The use of tendons for ligament reconstruction has limitations that would be addressed by the new technique, Dr. Salas explained.
“What can happen over time is that the tendon itself begins to kind of stretch and become a little bit relaxed in the joint,” she said. “Then (the tendon) becomes deficient again.”
Dr. Salas believes 3-D printing technology can create structures that are extremely close to actual ligaments.
“The near-field electrospinning technique that we have added to the bio-printer actually produces really highly aligned fibers that replicate the ligament tissue,” she said.
Dr. Salas’ next challenge involves learning how to attach the printed-out ligament to bone. She has received a two-year, $150,000 grant to develop the technique.
In other surgery news, a physician at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Fla. is pioneering a new technique for ACL reconstruction that could have big benefits for young athletes, according to a recent story by NBC 5 News. The new technique addresses a big concern in this age group — the risk of damaging growth plates during surgery.
To eliminate this risk, Jeremy Frank, MD, a Pediatric Sports Medicine Surgeon, has begun using a strip of tissue from his young patients’ iliotibial (IT) bands in ACL reconstructions. Dr. Frank wraps the piece of IT band around the thighbone and through the knee and then sutures it to the top of the shinbone.
The technique removes the need to drill any holes during the surgery, eliminating the risk of damaging growth plates.
“So you don’t injure them, causing one leg to be longer than the other, or even grow at an abnormal angle,” he explained.
Recovery time with ACL surgery using Dr. Frank’s technique is similar to recovery time with traditional ACL surgery. This involves limited activity for three months and physical therapy for at least five, with return to play at around a year.