Firm Offers Spinal Fusion Option

    GRAND RAPIDS — Statistically, more than 65 million Americans suffer lower back pain and by the age of 50, 85 percent of the population shows evidence of disc degeneration.

    Aside from those cases that respond to physical therapy, one of the few ways such sufferers could hope to be pain free in the past was to undergo bone grafts to fuse the spine at the damaged site, a painful procedure that involves harvesting bone from the hip.

    Medtronic, a manufacturer supporting the fields of spinal and cranial surgery, has developed INFUSE Bone Graft and the LT-CAGE Tapered Fusion Device to treat degenerative disc disease.

    And the firm claims that the procedures are safer and virtually pain-free in comparison to grafting because they eliminate bone harvesting.

    The firm reports that its INFUSE Bone Graft involves using a genetically engineered version of a natural protein.

    The substance has been isolated in the laboratory and then purified and reproduced using recombinant DNA technology. The resulting recombinant human protein is known as rhBMP-2, which is not very attractive as a word, but which the firm reports is a great promoter of new bone growth.

    That’s why — when used in an absorbable collagen sponge that spurs bone growth —  it’s called the INFUSE Bone Graft.

    That’s where Medtronic’s LT-CAGE Tapered Fusion Device comes in.

    The thimble-shaped titanium cage keeps the INFUSE Bone Graft at the fusion site, maintaining the proper distance between the vertebrae and stabilizing the vertebrae while the bone fusion takes place. Medtronic says the cage’s taper allows it to fit more naturally between vertebrae as compared with traditional cylindrical cages.

    Heretofore, spinal fusion surgery — often the only effective method to treat degenerative disc disease — was a two-step procedure actually requiring dual surgeries, one to harvest bone from the patient’s hip and a second to implant the bone into the spine.

    However, Medtronics says that according to numerous studies, harvesting bone from the hip is actually more painful than the fusion surgery. Reportedly, nearly a third of all patients experience hip pain for two years after harvesting surgery and lose nearly 50 more milliliters of blood than INFUSE Bone Graft patients.

    Spinal fusion surgery with INFUSE Bone Graft is essentially the same as the traditional fusing procedure but without the need to harvest bone from the patient’s hip.

    And in comparison, INFUSE Bone Graft —  when used with the LT-CAGE Device —eliminates the pain and blood loss of a second surgery, and reduces the amount of time spent in the hospital to treat complications resulting from the surgery.

    What happens with this procedure is that prior to the surgery, according to the Medtronic Web site, the powdered rhBMP-2 is mixed with sterile water included in the package, to create a liquid solution.

    The collagen sponge, which is used to carry the solution, is then cut and sized to fit inside two LT-CAGE devices.

    The sponges are soaked with the protein solution for at least 15 minutes, rolled up and placed inside the cages.

    Surgeons then remove the damaged disc from the patient’s spine and prepare the adjacent vertebrae for the insertion of the cages. The surgeon then implants the cages containing the soaked sponges in the space between the vertebrae, where the rhBMP-2 promotes the growth of bone to fuse the spine at that location. 

    Several of the patients who have already been candidates for the INFUSE Bone Graft procedure have reported walking two days after surgery and continuing to lead a normal and fulfilling life and experiencing greater than 50 percent improvement in pain scores after two years.

    Patients can also look to most private medical insurance or Medicare providers to cover the procedure.

    As for patients and hospitals alike, the benefits of using INFUSE Bone Graft with the LT-CAGE Lumbar Tapered Fusion Device are in the money and recovery time saved and in the reduced risk.

    Medtronic believes hospitals find the procedure is more cost-effective immediately after surgery, and over time, than procedures using bone harvested from the patient’s hip.

    The savings, the firm asserts, results from accomplishing essentially the same results with substantially less time spent in surgery and corresponding reductions in surgical support and logistics services.

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