By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – Doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital are repairing ruptured ACLs with a less invasive procedure, and they think it could change the course of treatment.

Corey Peak of Cambridge took a nasty tumble on the ski slopes last January.

“I heard two pops while I was falling,” Peak explains. “One was my right ski binding coming undone which is good because it helps protect the knee. But the other side I think was my right ACL rupturing.”

Peak is among hundreds of thousands of people who tear their ACLs every year. Girls who play sports like soccer, basketball, lacrosse and field hockey are most at risk.

Many require ACL reconstruction surgery where a tendon graft is used from another part of the knee.  That means patients have to recover from the ACL tear and the graft.

“Most patients are out of their sports for six to nine months from surgery and most aren’t back to their pre-injury level until maybe a year after surgery,” says Dr. Martha Murray, an orthopedic surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Murray and her team have now developed a procedure called “bridge-enhanced ACL repair.”

A sponge is used to stimulate the ACL to repair itself. Over six-to-eight weeks, the ends of the torn ACL grow into the sponge and reconnect.

Peak was their first patient.

“Pretty quickly we noticed that my recover went a little bit faster than we might have expected with a reconstruction,” Peak said.

Early results show this repaired ACL may work as the well as one reconstructed with a graft, and the hope is a faster recovery and a lower risk of arthritis in the injured knee.

“To see the potential for a procedure which would make ACL surgery less onerous for our patients or burdensome for our patients is really gratifying,” says Dr. Murray.

One year later, Peak is back to playing sports and sometimes forgets which knee was injured.

“It’s kind of like a good break up where you don’t think about it anymore,” Peak joked.

So far Boston Children’s has only tested the procedure on adults.

In the next phase of clinical trials, they will perform the surgery on young adults and children as young as 14.

If all goes well, within the next few years, they hope to win FDA approval to offer it to the general public.

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