A new twist on treating twisted spines

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Scoliosis is a spinal deformity that occurs in 3 percent of the population, typically appearing in adolescence although it can begin as early as preschool years. If left untreated, it can result in serious disfigurement and even respiratory problems. While the most common current treatment is largely effective, it requires regular invasive surgery twice annually to adjust or replace metallic rods that help straighten the spine a process that is both expensive and a serious disruption to the lives of both the young patients and their families. Thus, a just-published clinical study led by doctors at the University of Hong Kong set out to assess a new, non-invasive treatment method. The results, while confined to a very small group, are promising.

The study, published in The Lancet, aimed to improve upon the conventional treatment method. The new method requires only an initial surgery to insert a magnetically-controlled growing rod (MCGR) system that allows for monthly non-invasive lengthening of about 1.9 mm per treatment adding about one inch per year.

Five patients were involved in this novel clinical trial, and two had reached 24 months follow-up at the time of the study s publication. Using radiography, the researchers found that the mean degree of scoliosis in these two patients was 67 degrees before implantation and 29 degrees at 24 months. Especially noteworthy was that, throughout follow-up, neither patient had any pain, and both experienced good functional outcome and satisfaction with their treatment.

The authors note that, in addition to eliminating the problems associated with conventional treatment, MCGR has the potential to treat other disorders, including limb abnormalities. In the commentary accompanying the Lancet article, two doctors not involved with the study note that the promising results thus far must be substantiated by longer follow-up, which would also provide evidence of the magnetic rods long-term functionality.

While acknowledging the small size of this study, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross is impressed with the elegance and simplicity of the MCGR process. A non-invasive process that safely allows for such significant improvement over two years time is remarkable, he says. Given the large numbers of scoliosis sufferers and the degree of deformity that can result, this is very good news and merits larger studies as soon as possible. He also notes the importance of further development and testing of this new treatment technology, given that these growing rods remain unapproved by the U.S. FDA. He is in agreement with both researchers and other experts that the procedure holds great promise for children worldwide.