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Team Ortho: Helping Research One Race at a Time E-mail

You may know Team Ortho more as a team of runners you see a lot during marathons – those guys and gals with those blue and orange “targets” on their shirts-- but one step at a time this growing non-profit is helping Americans who suddenly find themselves with a traumatic injury.

Team Ortho Foundation officially became a non-profit in 2004. The brainchild of John Larson, Executive Director of Team Ortho, the group sets out to do “safe, high-quality races throughout the year to keep people active.” Staying active is one of the best defenses against orthopaedic injuries, to areas like knees, hips, and the spine. Exercise increases or maintains your bone density; as a result you may be able to better avoid injury in the future.

But inspiring people to run or ride their bike is not all Team Ortho does. With its four big races each quarter, the organization raises money for research. Every year Team Ortho donates money to the Shriner’s Hospital, the Orthopaedic Trauma Association and the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation. All of which have received a portion of nearly $90,000 over the last three years.

Money from Team Ortho and other groups help with research that someday could help you or a family member during a traumatic injury. Andrew Schmidt M.D. is an orthopaedic surgeon, specializing in fracture care, trauma and total joint replacement, with Hennepin County Medical Center; but he also takes part in and leads studies in orthopaedics.

 Team Ortho - Andy SchmidtHip Fractures:

Dr. Schmidt says some of the most significant issues in orthopaedics coming down the line will be with baby boomers and hip troubles. Researchers “are predicting a huge increase in hip fractures,” Dr. Schmidt said. Many baby boomers are still very active well into their 60s, if they break their hip they have big expectations says Dr. Schmidt, “They want it to be a bump in the road. But [a hip fracture] is very significant.”

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, “white, post-menopausal women have a 1 in 7 chance of hip fracture during a lifetime. The rate of hip fracture increases at age 50, doubling every five to six years.” The numbers increase as women get older because of women’s tendency for osteoporosis in later years. “Sometimes just stepping on it causes the break and then causes the fall, but that is usually in the most severe osteoporosis cases,” says Dr. Schmidt. He recommends anyone over 60 with a fracture should have their bone density checked.

A fall is what caused one of Dr. Schmidt’s most active patients to break her hip. She is a 53-year-old avid runner and was training for Grandma’s Marathon. She fell on some ice last February, breaking her hip. Dr. Schmidt fixed her hip, “…it healed well,” he says, “and she’s started running again...about four months after the accident.”

The problem with hip fractures is when they happen the patient is immobile for a time which can lead to many other complications, even death. “Some of it has to do with the debilitative state of the patient…some may already have heart, liver or kidney disease. So a major surgery is a big stress on their already compromised system,” Dr. Schmidt says. Plus the complication rate is high, says Dr. Schmidt, “as high as 25-30 percent” and a second surgery may be necessary.

The future of orthopaedic research

While much of orthopaedics has concentrated on mechanics, or a fix, for a fracture, now research is looking deeper into the biology of how the bone is healed. Researchers are “looking at ways we can now augment the body’s own healing response: medications could help, placing proteins in a fracture site or using ultrasound to stimulate healing,” Dr. Schmidt says.

Researchers are also looking into how they can regenerate cartilage and even entire limbs. “Cartilage has no means to repair itself,” he says, “if you have a fracture in a joint or you’re very active and your joint wears out, we don’t have much to offer except a joint replacement (for the knee or hip).”

The US Government also has a big research effort called the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) the goal is to be able to regenerate a limb for wounded veterans. While it sounds like a difficult goal to attain, Dr. Schmidt says,“It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

Funding orthopaedic research

But the future of orthopaedic research is dependent on funding. Clinical research is especially expensive. To conduct studies you have to have the administrative capabilities, which cost money, “…to be involved [you deal with] human subjects, research committees, protocols, data centers, meetings…tremendously expensive,” Dr. Schmidt says. He also noted funding from the National Institutes of Health was severely cut back in recent years—he says a whole generation of research has been lost because of it.

So what kind of funding is left? Dr. Schmidt says researchers now seek out “companies or go to independent groups…like Team Ortho” for funding. “Team Ortho, being independent and being able to make grants to research is really an important thing,” he says.

Team Ortho is happy to help. John Larson, executive director of the Team Ortho Foundation says the events the organization puts on are more than just about the race, “Your involvement is going to something important,” says John Larson, executive director of Team Ortho. The organization’s goal is twofold: raise money for orthopaedic research and get every body active to prevent dangerous fractures as well.