Entries in Spine (3)


New Device May Lessen Need for Surgery for Kids with Scoliosis

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Ashley Crane, 24, had her first scoliosis surgery when she was 14.

“I had two surgeries, a week apart,” she said.  “I remember my spine was very unstable…then I had the rods and screws placed.”

For Crane, who today is a nursing student as well as a competitive tap dancer, two operations were enough.  But for most younger patients with scoliosis, many more surgeries await.

Scoliosis is an abnormal bend or curve in the spine that usually affects children and young adults.  For up to 80 percent of scoliosis cases, the cause is unknown.  More than 4 percent of the population is affected by scoliosis; however not all will require surgery.  For those who do, surgery can be extensive.

The reason spinal fusion doesn’t work well in young patients is that they are still growing.  Instead, doctors use adjustable rods that they can lengthen as time goes by.

It works, but it has a price -- these children and teens must undergo surgery every six months to lengthen the rods appropriately.  Because of this, these young patients may require half a dozen operations -- or even more.  Each of these surgeries requires full general anesthesia and re-opening of the old wounds to access the rods.

While this technique has proven successful and beneficial for many children afflicted by the disease, it is invasive, painful and requires multiple hospitalizations, which often keeps these children in the hospital and out of school.  With multiple procedures also comes an increased risk of complications and infections.

But hope may be on the horizon for these kids.

A new study released in the journal Lancet reports the results of a new device that has been developed to minimize the number of operations required to help straighten the spine of young children affected by severe scoliosis.

This device uses the same concept of the growing rod, but instead of relying on surgery for adjustments, the rods instead are lengthened non-surgically using magnets -- thus eliminating a great deal of pain and recovery time.

In the new study, researchers from Hong Kong report its use in five patients.  So far, two of these patients have gone two years after the initial surgery with good results and no complications.  The device was able to straighten their spines by an average of 38 degrees.

Most importantly, they required no additional operations.

“This is a huge advantage for kids because this technology does not require any additional surgery,” said Dr. John T. Smith, professor of orthopedics at the University of Utah.

Smith said that this technology is not yet being tested in the United States because of excessive Food and Drug Administration barriers, requiring much of this research to be done in other countries.

As of yet, there is no indication as to whether or when this technology will be available in the U.S.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Spinal Cord Injury Victim First to Undergo Embryonic Stem-Cell Therapy

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Dr. Donald Leslie, medical director at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, has high hopes.

"We want to cure paralysis," he said. "We want to stop spinal cord injury. How incredible would that be?"

Leslie's mission has begun with T.J. Atchinson, the first step in research that he believes could lead to many steps for those who were told they would never walk again. Atchinson, 21, was the first human with a spinal cord injury to undergo embryonic stem-cell therapy.

The athletic college student's life took a hard turn in September when he was home from the University of Alabama visiting his family in Chatom and lost control of his car. Even before he was cut loose from the vehicle, he knew something was wrong.

"I realized I couldn't feel from about here down," nursing student Atchinson said, pointing to his waist. "When I got to the hospital, they said I would never walk again."

The accident took place on the birthday of Christopher Reeves, the actor who had fought hard for embryonic stem-cell therapy but never lived to receive it. Atchinson was still accepting the news about his situation when doctors told him he'd be a great candidate for the therapy.

Stem cells are the building blocks of life, and they've been used in the laboratory to repair the broken spinal cords of small animals, who walked again. Atchinson agreed to become test case No. 1.

Doctors opened his wound, while researchers used a remote control to guide the needle. They injected his spinal cord with a small dose of 2 million cells that, they hope, will transform into new nerve cells, attach to muscles and refire Atchinson's central nervous system.

Although Atchinson's role was only to prove the procedure is safe, he believes it's already working. "I can feel that," Atchinson said, pulling the hair on his legs.

After six months of the therapy, he said, he's able to sense weight when he places heavy items on his lap. It's barely there, Atchinson said, but he can sense something. Rubbing his leg, Atchinson said, "I can feel that, there's something there."

His doctors are cautiously optimistic.

"It's very hard to measure sensation," Dr. Leslie said. "But if he tells me he couldn't feel something before, and he can now, I got to believe him. And I want this for him more than you know."

Doctors will continue to measure Atchinson's strength and test his nerves and muscles. He returns to school in the fall, moving on with his life but still holding out hope that his injury is healing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Paralyzed Gymnast Walks After 'Frozen Spine' Treatment

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(MIAMI) -- When a double-flip gone awry left gymnast Jorge Valdez, 20, paralyzed with a dislocated neck, doctors feared he would never walk again.  But just seven days after surgeons opted for a still-experimental treatment involving induced hypothermia, Valdez walked out of the hospital.

Valdez was practicing a double flip while making an audition video for the Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil when he misjudged his rotation and landed on his head, dislocating his C6 and C7 vertebrae.

"I was unable to move after that, I couldn't feel my legs.  I could only open and close my hands a little," Valdez, a Miami native, said.  "I was scared.  I've been injured before pretty bad, but nothing this bad."

He was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where doctors determined he was a candidate for a cooling procedure that is thought to slow spinal cord damage by reducing swelling at the injury site.

Valdez was a good candidate for cooling because he had an isolated injury and he was a healthy guy with no other medical conditions, said Dr. Steven Vanni, a neurosurgeon at the University of Miami, who treated Valdez.  Though he had been able to move his arms after the injury, by the time he was brought to Vanni, he had no motor or sensory function below his neck, making it difficult to predict how much function he would ultimately recover.

"He told my dad he couldn't guarantee that I'd be able to walk again," Valdez says.

After surgeons removed the disc that was pressing on the spine and fixed the dislocations, a catheter cooled by chilled saline was inserted into Valdez's groin.  The chilled catheter cooled down his blood as it passed through it, his internal body temperature down to about 92 degrees Fahrenheit.  He was kept in a medically-induced coma and in that hypothermic state for 48 hours post-operation.

"I woke up and thought it was the day of the surgery [Thursday], when really it was Saturday," Valdez says.  By that Wednesday, he was walking on his own.

Now out of the hospital, Valdez's physical therapy focuses primarily on his hands, where he has some nerve damage.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio