Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: March 23, 2016
Did you ever play with those tiny little spongy capsules as a kid that took shape when you placed them in water? You know, these ones. They were cool when you were young, but adults are raving about a similar technology that is helping patients recover from spinal injuries.
Scientists are experimenting with a biodegradable polymer graft that acts in a similar manner. These tiny grafts are surgically inserted into a damaged vertebrae, and when exposed to fluids inside the body, they expand to fill the damaged or cracked area.
Researchers presented these findings at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). They believe the grafts may be very beneficial for patients with spinal tumors, because oftentimes tumor surgery requires taking out an entire bone segment and/or adjacent intervertebral discs from the area. This means the patient is often left with a void that will need to be filled in order to maintain spinal stability.
“The overall goal of this research is to find ways to treat people with metastatic spinal tumors,” said Lichun Lu, Ph. D. “The spine is the most common site of skeletal metastases in cancer patients, but unlike current treatments, our approach is less invasive and is inexpensive.”
The potential innovation is making waves in the medical community for a number of reasons, and while stabilizing the spine after tumor removal is something doctors have already mastered, consider this. There are typically two types of spinal tumor removal surgeries; an open procedure that is more taxing on the patient, lengthens recovery time and leaves the patient more susceptible to infection, and then there’s the less invasive approach, which still allows the doctor to remove the tumor and stabilize the spine, but because the small incisions don’t let the doctor insert metal cages or bone grafts, the less invasive method only allows the spine to be stabilized by titanium rods, which are very expensive. These new “growable grafts” could potentially be inserted during the less invasive procedure and provide similar stability at a fraction of the price.
By studying chemicals and spinal fluid composition, researchers believe they were able to develop a graft that will expand slowly enough that it won’t expand while the doctor is getting it in place, yet fast enough that it won’t significantly increase surgery time. They plan to begin testing on cadavers and simulated in-patient procedures in the near future, and hope to be to the clinical trial stage within three years.