Often times, an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is paired with a distinct popping sound, an indicator of the ACL tearing.
That was what Harvard University doctoral student Corey Peak heard when he suffered his own ACL injury in the winter of 2015.
On Feb. 23, 2015, Peak became the first person to undergo a new ACL repair procedure—bridge-enhanced ACL repair, also known as BEAR.
The new technique was developed by staff at the Boston Children’s Hospital, led by Dr. Martha Murray.
Each year, there are more than 200,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, according to the University of California, San Francisco. Roughly 100,000 of those injuries require reconstructive surgery.
In the current standard ACL reconstruction surgery, the torn ligament is removed and replaced by a tendon from another part of the knee or from a deceased donor, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Your surgeon will drill sockets and tunnels into your thighbone and shinbone to accurately position the graft, which is then secured to your bones with screws or other fixation devices,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “The graft will serve as scaffolding on which new ligament tissue can grow.”
Graft harvest sites are usually either the patellar, hamstring, or quadriceps tendons, according to University of California, San Francisco.
Hearing about the risk of early-onset osteoarthritis following the standard surgery, Peak opted to participate in BEAR’s first-in-humans safety trial.
According to Boston Children’s Hospital, 80 percent of patients who undergo the current standard procedure develop arthritis 15 to 20 years after the surgery.
“I realized that instead of letting my injury be a personal setback, this clinical trial could give me the opportunity to become part of the story that is larger than I am,” wrote Peak. “By participating in the BEAR trial, I could contribute to science, while also having an outcome that I expected to be similar to or better than I would with ACL reconstruction.”
In the new surgery, sutures are used to stabilize the ACL and knee. Then, a sponge comprised of special proteins is placed where the ACL used to be located. A syringe of the patient’s blood is injected into the sponge, and the sutures are used to pull the ACL’s torn ends into the sponge. The environment is supposed to be conducive to ACL regrowth.
When Peak went in for an MRI three months following his surgery, the team saw signs that the ACL was healing.
According to the Boston Globe, the nine other participants in the Phase 1 safety study show signs of healthy ACL growth. For Phase 2, the team plans to enroll 100 patients in the study.
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