New Device Makes Back Surgery Simpler (Video)

By Pat Anson, Editor

Human trials are set to begin in Australia on a new spinal fusion device that could change the way degenerative disc disease, stenosis and other types of severe back pain are surgically treated.

Traditional spinal fusions usually involve several metal rods, plates and screws to hold vertebrae in place, while a bone graft grows around them.

“Existing methods of spinal fusion use rod or cage systems that require screws to be drilled into the spine and a painful bone graft harvested,” said Professor Bill Walsh, Director of Surgical and Orthopaedic Laboratories at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). “These systems are very costly, difficult and time consuming to implant and they also have relatively variable rates of fusion success.”

Walsh and his colleagues at UNSW have invented a device they call the Thru-Fuze, which is designed to make spinal fusions much less invasive. Only a few inches long and made of titanium, Thru-Fuze has a porous design that allows the patient's own bone to grow through it, without the need for grafting or other metallic hardware.

Bone grafting – a transplant of bone from another part of the patient’s body – often fails to achieve a complete fusion. And it can take up to a year to find out if the surgery was a success.

In laboratory testing on animals, spinal fusion with Thru-Fuze began in as little as six weeks, with bone growing on and through the device in what it's developers call a rapid “biomechanical” fixation.

This video was produced by USNW to explain how Thru-Fuze works:

Human trials of Thru-Fuze are expected to begin at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney next year with funding from a $1.5 million government grant. Intellectual Ventures, a private equity company, has also provided funding and has exclusive licensing of Thru-Fuze. Patents for the device have been filed in Australia, Europe, China and the United States.

Lower back pain is the world’s leading cause of disability, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study.