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Team Rebound: GE and NBA Seek to Keep Game Injuries on the Sidelines

As an engineering student at Stanford University in the 1980s, Garry Gold was leading an active lifestyle, running marathons and playing sports. But then he tore his ACL – the connective tissue that links the thighbone to the shinbone at the knee – during a routine pickup basketball game.

He bounced back after reconstructive surgery and some time off, but the old injury struck back a decade later when he developed arthritis in the knee. “I didn’t think too much about it, the knee seemed to be just fine,” he says about his injury. “[But] after many years of playing sports the knee kind of went south.” He is now helping save professional players as well as weekend warriors from a similar ordeal.

Dr. Gold – his  fascination with medical imaging led him from engineering to medicine and to his current job at Stanford as radiology professor – is using his personal experience and professional knowledge to advise a new collaboration between the National Basketball Association and GE Healthcare to promote orthopedic and sports medicine research.

The advisory board will be chaired by Dr. John DiFiori, the NBA’s director of sports medicine, and the multi-year project will focus on joint health and acute and overuse musculoskeletal injuries of the muscles, nerves, tendons, cartilage and other body parts, and look for new ways to diagnose them, treat them, and prevent them.

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GIF above: Physicians often want to see the full joint in multiple 2D planes to better diagnose a patient or plan a surgical intervention. 3D MRI data creates images of the cartilage surface, meniscus, and tendons as shown here. Some minor cartilage degeneration is seen in this patient’s knee. Top image: Cartilage can degrade (red spot in the color overlay) and wear down over time due to injury or degenerative joint disease like osteoarthritis.

GE has deep expertise in medical imaging technology and the collaboration, which is part of the company’s healthymagination initiative,  will provide funding for clinical researchers studying diagnostic and preventative techniques to identify risks for the development of orthopedic conditions.

“The research from this collaboration has the potential to benefit not just NBA players but all athletes and people who tear their ACL or meniscus while skiing, playing football or doing almost anything,” Dr. Gold says. “If we can learn more about what causes ongoing wear and tear to the joints in the body, it will really have broad implications on health and wellness for the general population.”

Musculoskeletal injuries are often caused and prolonged by sudden exertion, repetition, force, vibration and other factors. Dr. Gold says that professionals and amateurs alike are often too eager to return to their previous level of activity after an injury. “We have some hypotheses on why arthritis develops over time,“ Dr. Gold says. “There could be new wear and tear on joints in the body that weren’t stressed before the ACL surgery, or just the slow biochemical reaction process in the joint slowly breaks down the tissue in the joint,” Dr. Gold says.

GE and NBA said the research will contribute to a “deeper understanding of overuse injuries and the resulting impact on athletes’ lives.” They plan to start seeking research proposals later this year.

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