When living in a ski town, it’s only a matter of time before the rad times you’ve been posting catch up with you. Be it through getting older, making a tiny but crucial mistake on an in-run, or just zigging when you should have zagged, after a few years it’s more a matter of when than if you get banged up.
Let’s all pause for a moment to knock on some wood.
One of the most common injuries to befall a skier is the tear of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL. Such a simple piece of your knee, but busting yourself up like this can mean weeks of treatment and sometimes invasive surgery to repair it. It goes without saying that activities like skiing are a long way off for you – harder for some to watch their friends come home after ripping all day, while you’ve been keeping the couch warm watching fat flakes fall from the gray sky.
All that may be about to change drastically, however, thanks to the work being done by Dr. Martha Murray. As an engineering student, she met a man who had suffered the injury and couldn’t understand why all these pieces had to be inserted, holes drilled into bones, for just a tiny ligament. This irked at her so much that she eventually switched over to medical school to try and solve the problem. Her prototype, a tiny sponge scaffold, designed to aid healing, is 30 years in the making and ready to test on humans. Murray explains where she got her idea, and how it works:
“When the MCL [medial collateral ligament] tears, the two ends bleed and the blood forms a provisional scaffold between the two torn ends that the tissue then grows into and heals itself… In the ACL, the ends bleed when it gets injured, but the blood can’t clot between the two ends of the ligament because of the fluid in the knee joint. So, you end up having these two torn ends washing around in this liquid instead of getting reconnected by a solidified blood clot.
“Once we figured that out, we developed a scaffold, basically like a sponge, that you can use to hold the blood between the two torn ends of the ACL long enough for the cells around and the tissue around to grow into it and reunite. When we do the repair of the ACL and we sew it back together, we sew it with the sponge between the two ends. Then, we can put some of the patient’s own blood onto that sponge. The sponge soaks up that blood and holds the blood which has all the right biology to stimulate healing. The sponge gets replaced over six to eight weeks with healing tissues. It’s there until it’s not needed anymore.”
It’s still a long way off from being “the norm”, but the FDA has approved Dr. Murray to try it out on 10 patients with recent injuries, a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of cases every year. But it’s a good, crutches-free step in the right direction.
A full interview with Dr Murray can be found here.