Medical Moment: The ‘marshmallow’ implant healing ACL injuries

Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 5:38 PM EST
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(WNDU) - Nearly 200,000 ACL reconstruction surgeries are performed in the United States each year. Now, there’s a new, less-invasive treatment option that can get athletes back in the game faster than ever before.

With every leg lift, Jenna Richardson is one step closer to getting back to the things she loves.

“About every other weekend when we can fly all over the world to ski,” Richardson said. “I love to surf and we travel around the world for that, too.”

But it was the last run of the day on her mountain bike that stopped her in her tracks.

“I was riding down a big rock and the back of the bike kind of flew around to the front of the bike,” Richardson said. “My front tire got stuck and my knee went with it.”

Completely tearing her ACL, a band of tissue that runs through the center of the knee. In the past, orthopedic surgeon Tim Wang would need to build a new ACL from tissue from the patient’s other healthy knee or cadaver tissue, requiring two surgical sites. But now, this tiny implant is repairing ligaments from the inside out in one procedure.”

“This is one of the first times that we’re able to repair somebody’s own ACL and support it as it heals with a collagen sponge,” Dr. Wang explained, MD, Scripps Clinic San Diego.

Through a tiny incision, surgeons stitch the ligaments together, then insert the bridge-enhanced ACL repair, or bear, implant between the torn ligaments.

“It’s about the size of a marshmallow and we soak it and load it with the patient’s own blood and insert that into the knee through a small incision,” Dr. Wang continued.

The collagen helps to heal the gap between the two ends of the ruptured ligament. The patient’s body absorbs the implant material within a few months.

Just a few weeks out from surgery, Jenna is hoping to lose her crutches soon and hopes to get back to doing what she loves.