The unfortunate cases of people damaging their ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is pretty common in the realm of knee injuries, with over 100,000 ACL tears occurring in USA alone, every year. In case you are wondering, this ligament connects the femur with the tibia, and as such, most contemporary methods of rectifying the tear pertains to the method of autograft.
Most commonly, the grafting tissue is acquired from the body’s existing patellar tendon and the hamstrings tendon. But this surgical process requires an extended recovery time of over 8 months, while it also often results in knee soreness – due to the depleted nature of the tendons used for grafts. However, this time around, scientists from Northwestern University in Illinois, are developing a man-made version of the ACL that could potentially make the treatment scope more effective.
To that end, the researchers have created an artificial ligament-like component that is made of braided polyester fibers. This fibrous material is further fused with a composite of a porous antioxidant and hydroxyapatite nanocrystals (based on calcium). These ‘natural’ biomaterials are generally found in both bones and teeth; while the resultant bio-engineered ACL boasts of a similar tensile strength as that of its organic counterpart.
In the subsequent trial experiment, rabbits had to go under the knife – with holes being bored into the animal’s femur and tibia region. The artificial ACL was then passed through the ends, and secured. After a initial period, the scientists did find out that the natural cells from the body’s bones and tissues were gradually making their way to ‘bind’ into the aforementioned composite of antioxidant and nanocrystals. Now, only time can tell – if the overall incorporation of the bio-engineered material into the organic scheme of things, is successful in the long run.
According to Professor Guillermo Ameer, who is heading the project –
The engineered ligament is biocompatible and can stabilize the knee, allowing the animal to function. Most importantly, we may have found a way to integrate an artificial ligament with native bone.
So, in other words, the artificial ACL can avoid the general practice of tendon grafting from other parts of the body – that often results in discomfort for the user. But of course, human trials can only begin after more studies are done, along with successful implementations of the procedure in animals.