Bioengineering is the term best used to describe the utilization of multiple disciplines to solve a health-related problem. The incorporated disciplines involved often include medicine, life sciences, mathematics and engineering.
Most recently, bioengineering has emerged as a potential solution for many orthopedic injuries, including those related to sports. Some of the most promising research has been in the area of tendon and ligament regeneration.
Anterior cruciate ligament injuries are among the most common and disabling sports-related injuries. According to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, there are approximately 150,000 ACL tears each year. These injuries account for approximately $500 million in health care costs annually in the United States.
The knee is a hinged joint where the femur and tibia articulate. The bony surfaces are cushioned by cartilage. Four main ligaments hold the entire joint together: the ACL, posterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and the lateral collateral ligament.
ACL injuries are most common in high-intensity sports, including soccer, football and basketball. Damage can result from sudden changes in direction, landing awkwardly after jumping or direct impact from a collision.
Bioengineering is being used to build new ligaments by applying stem cells to a scaffold and allowing the cells to generate a new ligament or through the application of stem cells to allow a ligament to be repaired.
"The use of stem cells, osteobiologics and biodegradable synthetic polymers is the frontier of sports medicine surgery and surgical augmentation," said Dr. Cory Edgar, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and UConn team physician. "These approaches will significantly impact surgery success rates, recovery times and return-to-play timelines."
The routine use of bioengineered tendon repair may not be far off.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org