A Marathon of Research into Joint Preservation

Dr. Alan Getgood

By involving himself in research endeavours, Dr. Alan Getgood hopes to make an impact on patients with sports - related injuries worldwide

By Crystal Mackay, MA’05

Above Dr. Alan Getgood’s desk at the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic hangs a poster of the Sahara Desert; a wide-open expanse of sand and heat. Only when you look very closely do you see a cluster of runners, like a line of tiny ants moving through two valleys.

“That’s me. In the middle of the pack somewhere,” he said with a distinctive Irish lilt. Along with 900 runners, Dr. Getgood ran 250 kilometres over seven days through the Moroccan Sahara. “It was a pretty crazy race, and it was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was a good experience, but it was a test of mental toughness for sure.”

That was 2012, just before he began his career as an orthopaedic surgeon and researcher at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. He has the poster in that prominent spot in his office as a constant reminder of what’s possible when you focus on the end goal.

“Very similar to a marathon, you have to just have the mindset that you are going to complete it, and focus on getting things done.”

And using that mantra, Dr. Getgood has published more than 60 research papers and has completed more than 1,200 knee surgeries since he began his career at the School, with an end goal of making a significant impact on the lives of not just his own patients, but all patients with sports-related injuries.

“As a surgeon, if you don’t do any research you really only get to influence the number of people you can see in your career,” he said. “Whereas by doing research, you can influence an awful lot more.”

The impact of his work is already being felt in the world of sport medicine. One of Dr. Getgood’s biggest accomplishments has been investigating the role of a ligament that stretches onto the lateral side of the knee called the anterolateral ligament. “I had a surgeon say to me at a recent meeting that he has one of our papers on his wall in the operating room,” he said. “So that’s validation of our work in a tangible way.”

Dr. Getgood and his team are exploring how this ligament might benefit patients who are undergoing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction. Currently, orthopaedic surgeons only repair the ACL, and leave the ligament on the lateral side of the knee alone. By combining these two techniques, he hopes to show improvements in the preservation of the joint over the long-term.

Since 2014, he and his team of collaborators (seven centres in Canada and two in Europe) have been recruiting patients into what will be the world’s largest randomized clinical trial for ACL reconstruction. Already 500 patients have been randomized with a further 100 to go.

Furthermore, he and his Western colleagues in the Bone and Joint Institute will commence a second randomized clinical trial in the fall looking at what they call the “mechano-biology” of knee injuries. They plan to investigate ways to prevent the cascade of biological effects that happen in the joint after a mechanical injury like a torn ACL. By using a person’s own bone marrow, they will be investigating whether or not they can stop this cascade that often leads to post-traumatic osteoarthritis (OA).

“Because bone marrow has stem cells in it and other anti-inflammatory properties, we are hoping that it will help modulate the degeneration that leads to post-traumatic OA,” he said.

With the marathon of research and clinical work that he does every day, it is particularly important to him to make time for himself and his family, and he still laces up his running shoes several times a week to get out for a run with his dog.

When asked what parallels he can draw between his professional life and his personal life, he chuckled. “Well, my knee hurts,” he said.