Differences between women and men can be especially important when it comes to their health. Women are more likely to suffer from ACL injuries than men. This health risk targeting women is brought to light in a study by Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center researchers.
The ACL or anterior cruciate ligament is a one of the four major ligaments of the human knee. ACL injuries are not uncommon, especially among female athletes. Estimates show the rate of ACL injuries in females is as much as 10 times higher than it is in males. Dr. Daniel Hardy, associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Biochemistry, and his research team are studying the causes of ACL injuries in female athletes.
Ligament strength depends on its size and on the arrangement of its microscopic building blocks called collagen bundles. Comparing athletes of similar size, Hardy's lab found that the ACL in women is on average smaller than in men. In addition, female ACLs have a lower proportion of the collagen bundles that provide strength to the ligament. To study the cause of these differences, the researchers analyzed genes regulating the ligament's cyclic repair system. In the repair cycle, enzymes break down the old, damaged collagen molecules and replace them with new ones. This process is called tissue remodeling.
Hardy's lab has discovered that the basic repair and maintenance processes of the ACL seem to differ between men and women. Think of it this way. As a person plays hard, there is strain on everything from your bones to your muscles. In response, the body repairs itself, making muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments bigger and stronger. This research is showing that women do not favor the repair and build up of the ACL as much as men. If recovery is not quick enough, the ACL can become weakened, leading to injury.
This ACL research brings hopes that by finding differences and understanding their causes, we can develop treatments that will affect the size and strength of the ACL and protect women from injury. For the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, I'm Dr. Tedd Mitchell, and this is the President's Prescription.