By scouring ancient fossils and operating on a 99-pound monkey, a Pittsburgh doctor hopes to prove his controversial theory on human knees. Dr. Freddie Fu, chairman of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's department of orthopedic surgery, intends to use surgery on Johnny, a 12-year-old Mandrill monkey at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, to get a close look at how his knee is put together.
Fu contends that a decades-old method for knee surgery, done to repair a torn ligament that connects the shin to the thigh bone, is incorrect.
When someone tears the anterior cruciate ligament - 200,000 people in the United States do so annually - doctors repair one bundle of fibers, even though there are two, one that allows the knee to bend and another to twist. Fu contends that knee surgery must replace both bundles to be effective.
So far, Fu's research has found that even 50 million years ago monkeys which are long extinct had two bundles of fibers in their knee, pointing to its biological necessity.
"You're born with two bundles, you live with two bundles and you die with two bundles," Fu told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "But when you get surgery, then you have only one bundle."
Fu said Wednesday's planned surgery to repair the 99-pound monkey's knee would provide an opportunity explore his theory by closely examining its ligaments and structure.
Frederick Azar, a surgeon at a Memphis, Tenn.-based orthopedic center, Campbell Clinic, said Fu's theories look good on paper, but it is unclear how it will work with actual patients.
"It's technically more demanding, and I think that's why it hasn't caught on with other orthopedic surgeons in this country," Azar said.