Connecting the femur to the tibia, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture is one of the most devastating injuries in sports. No other injury has sidelined more athletes for a season or even the rest of a career. And ACL sprains and tears affect more people than just the pros. According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, more than 250,000 ACL surgeries are performed annually in the United States, totaling up to more than $500 million in health care costs each year. Not only is the ACL inelastic and prone to popping, it is incapable of healing itself, causing surgeons to rely on autografts for reconstruction. Most common is the bone-patellar tendon-bone (BPTB) graft, in which the surgeon removes part of the patellar tendon to replace the damaged ACL. "BPTB autografts have a high incidence of knee pain and discomfort that does not go away," said Dr. Guillermo Ameer, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and Professor of Surgery at the Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. "By saving the patient's patellar tendon and using an off-the-shelf product, one may have a better chance of preserving the natural biomechanics of the knee." Dr. Ameer and his research team are working to engineer such a product by combining three components: polyester fibers that are braided to increase strength and toughness, an inherently antioxidant and porous biomaterial previously created in Ameer's lab, and calcium nanocrystals, a mineral naturally found in human teeth and bones.
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