MU's James Cook receives NFL grant to research meniscus diagnostic technique

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 11:50 a.m. CST, Tuesday, December 22, 2009
James Cook.

COLUMBIA — James Cook's usual patients don't play football, but they are being used as inspiration to help the men that do.

The NFL gave a $120,000 grant to James Cook, a veterinarian and director of the Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory at MU.

The grant takes effect in January and allows Cook to research methods of diagnosing meniscal tears in NFL players. The meniscus is cartilage that acts as a shock absorber in the knee.

"It’s really a pretty comprehensive grant," Cook said. "The big picture part of it is that we’re trying to really find out exactly why those problems happen and then how to most efficiently completely diagnose them."

According to Cook, NFL players could play on an injured knee without knowing the extent of the injury because of adrenaline masking the pain. Being able to diagnose accurately at the stadium allows the player to know if they have a tear and whether returning to the game would be a wise decision.

Cook developed a technique using ultrasounds to diagnose meniscal tears in dogs that gives a more complete diagnosis than current methods allow.

According to Cook, current methods allow a tear to be diagnosed but do not allow for clear assessment of the quality of the meniscal tissue.

Knowing the quality of the tissue can affect the way a tear is treated. A tear in an otherwise healthy meniscus might require only an arthroscopic repair, while a tear in a degenerative meniscus would require the bad tissue to be removed and other options to be assessed.

Cook is hopeful about the possibilities of the research. He hopes that it will allow for the meniscus to be screened to see if it's predisposed to tearing.

"Quite frankly, I’m never going to get an NFL grant for working on dogs, but the work that we’ll do through the NFL grant will benefit dogs," Cook said. "So as a vet and a scientist that’s working on the human side, it’s win-win for me because I’m able to get funding, I’m able to help people and, at the same time, I’m going to bring it back and apply it to my patients."

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