'A dream come true': Dr. Jorge Chahla strives for success at Rush

Written by Alan Condon | September 06, 2019 | Print  |

Following in the footsteps of fellow Argentinian orthopedic surgeon Jorge Galante, MD, Jorge Chahla, MD, PhD, hopes to leave a similar mark on his new practice at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush in Chicago.

Dr. Galante, the first chairman of the orthopedic surgery department at Rush University Medical Center, died of cancer complications in 2017 but will forever be remembered for his innovations and contributions to orthopedics at the hospital.

Dr. Galante's tenure at Rush lasted from 1972 until 1994. In August, the hospital renamed its orthopedic center the Sofija and Jorge O. Galante Orthopedic Building in recognition of his leadership, philanthropy and contributions to the field.

As an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at MOR, while also serving as director of biomechanical research and of the international fellowship program, Dr. Chahla aims to establish his practice in Chicago and develop the biomechanical and clinical research programs at the hospital.

Here, Dr. Chahla speaks to Becker's Spine Review about the goals for his new practice, regenerative medicine in orthopedics and the future of sports medicine.

Note: Responses were lightly edited for style and clarity.

Question: How did you come to join Midwest Orthopedics at Rush? Was this always a goal of yours?

Dr. Jorge Chahla: This was my dream coming from Argentina. The physician who founded the orthopedic department here at Rush was Argentinian — Dr. Jorge Galante. Now the whole building is named after him. He's kind of a legend in orthopedics because he did a lot of the groundwork for us to be able to use cement-less prosthesis, which is what we currently use. My dad also knew him.

When I came to the U.S. for three months to observe Robert LaPrade, MD, PhD, at Vail, Colo.-based The Steadman Clinic in 2015, they ended up hiring me and I stayed for two and a half years as a regenerative sports medicine fellow. I took all the exams I needed to validate my degree in the U.S. After that, I applied for a sports medicine fellowship at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. Then I completed another fellowship here at Midwest Orthopaedics Rush as a fellow. Now I'm an attending surgeon in the sports medicine division, which is a dream come true. 

Q: How was your experience during your sports medicine fellowship at the Steadman Clinic? What was your primary focus during those two years?

JC: My main focus was orthopedic regenerative medicine. It was a phenomenal experience where I had the opportunity to work with world renowned surgeons such as Dr. LaPrade and Dr. Marc Philippon and scientists such as Dr. Johnny Huard. We did basic science and animal studies where we tried to regenerate diseased cartilage, meniscus and ligaments using growth factors and stem cells. We also focused on improving surgical outcomes by 'augmenting' our repairs and surgical reconstructions with biologics such as platelet rich plasma and stem cells to accelerate the healing process and make it more robust.

Q: Are there any innovative biological treatments that you see making a breakthrough in sports medicine?

JC: I think this is a huge area in sports medicine. So far, we've had changes in techniques, improved protocols and developed new technologies. However, from a clinical standpoint, we've not been able to regenerate some of the key parts of the joint in an in vivo model yet. I think with all the research being done, we will be able at some point — not only to treat cartilage, ligaments and meniscus tears more efficiently — but also reverse diseases such as osteoarthritis.

Q: Can you tell me about your role as director of biomechanical research? What are you focusing on and what do you hope to achieve?

JC: I've done a lot of research in biomechanics. One of my mentors was Dr. LaPrade. He had a pyramid approach to science where you study the anatomy first to understand where all the structures are, how the joints are composed and how to replicate the anatomy when you're doing a reconstruction. The second step is biomechanics. You need to understand the biomechanics — how everything functions — in order to effectively reconstruct the structures of the body so they can effectively do the same as the native structure. If you reconstruct an anterior cruciate ligament for example and your technique is not accurate in replicating the native anatomy, that's going to have a detrimental biomechanical impact, which can jeopardize the outcome of the procedure.

The goal for the program is to continue to expand what the division has already started. We have a state of the art biomotion lab as well, so trying to combine what we see in basic science and the biomotion lab will be of significant interest to the scientific community and our patients. The main goal for us is to provide world class care that has resources we can translate immediately, and that is what biomechanics can give us. We can try new techniques in the lab and apply them to patients if they can provide them with a significant advantage.

Q: You've adapted a new role as team physician for the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bulls and Chicago Fire. How has your athletic background helped you to treat high-level professional athletes? Is there more pressure on you as a physician when treating these athletes?

JC: For sure. Being a former professional rugby player helps me better understand how athletes think, their concerns and their goals. It's always a learning experience as treating high-level athletes is a whole different world because of their physical demands and contractual obligations. In this regard, the mentorship of experienced head team physicians such as Dr. Brian Cole and Dr. Nikhil Verma within our group makes the treatment algorithm clearer. It's important for us to identify all the things that can be wrong and try to treat them in the most efficient manner, depending on what part of the season they're in. For example, sometimes players are unwilling to have a surgery for a lingering problem in the beginning of the season because they are afraid the team will drop them and their opportunities might be lost. It's a conversation that happens just like with any athlete in our clinic. We try to provide the same high-level care to every patient.

Q: Sports medicine is becoming an increasing trend in orthopedics. How do you see it developing in the field?

JC: Sports medicine is probably the fastest growing subspecialty within orthopedics. With the advent of arthroscopic techniques and biologic approaches, we are in an exciting era where we can treat our patients in a minimally invasive fashion with optimal outcomes. From preventing genomics, to monitoring health through sensors and wearables to new rehabilitation methods, the field of sports medicine is enriched with opportunities to grow. Contemporary scientific tools such as robotics or biomotion analysis also give the chance to accurately discover the best way to diagnose or treat several musculoskeletal conditions. 

Q: What are your goals, both professionally and personally, over the next five years?

JC: My goal is to establish my practice here in Chicago and continue to develop and expand our biomechanical, clinical and basic science research programs. I'm also excited about our new international fellowship program and hosting two Brazilian surgeons at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush for one year to help provide the tools they need to go back to their country and become more proficient in research and surgery.

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