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Jan. 21, 2010 Volume 31, No. 16

NFL grant will focus on detecting career-ending knee injuries


Technology could aid people and animals

For about a million active people in the United States every year, tearing the meniscus in their knee can mean the end of participation in the activities they enjoy.  For NFL football players, it can mean the end of their careers if not diagnosed and treated efficiently and effectively.

Currently, diagnosing meniscal problems most often involves a combination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and arthroscopy done days to weeks after injury — this process is time-consuming, expensive and invasive.  Now, University of Missouri researchers are working on developing a technique for 'on-the-field' diagnosis of meniscal tears. National Football League Charities has awarded MU researchers a $120,000 medical grant to fund this project.

James Cook, the William and Kathryn Allen Distinguished Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery, and his team in the Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory have been improving diagnostic measures to identify joint issues quickly, correctly and non-invasively in hopes of curbing damage, speeding recovery and preventing future problems. They also are examining potential biomarkers for knee injuries that could help determine problems, guide treatments and predict healing.

"This meniscal diagnosis project funded by NFL Charities fits perfectly with these missions," Cook says. "The research that we are doing at MU is improving the way we diagnose and treat joint problems in elite athletes, as well as individuals of all levels of activity."

Meniscal tears are especially common in athletes — human, canine, and equine — who participate in contact and cutting sports. Many football players injure their menisci each year while performing twisting and pivoting maneuvers in games or practice.

"The problem is that the nature and extent of the injury is nearly impossible to determine until the MRI and arthroscopy procedures are performed, leaving the player, coach and medical personnel uncertain of whether the player can or should continue to play, what treatment will be required and what the prognosis is," Cook says. The MU research team on this project is hoping to change all of that by validating a method for on-the-field evaluation of the menisci using a ultrasonography technique they have developed and tested on dogs.

Cook says the research will benefit both humans and animals. "We are working hard to help cure the joint disorders common in people and animals," he says. "Our team is dedicated to putting great science behind optimal delivery of care for all patients, two-legged and four-legged."