U Orthopaedic Center Part of Worldwide Study to Advance Scoliosis Treatment

U Orthopaedic Center Part of Worldwide Study to Advance Scoliosis Treatment

Mar 8, 2005 5:00 PM

While the cause of idiopathic scoliosis -- a sideways curvature of the spine that affects 2 percent of the population worldwide -- remains unknown, doctors and scientists dont want its treatment to be as mysterious.

The University of Utah Orthopaedic Center and 59 other institutions worldwide are participating in a study to help advance the understanding of scoliosis and also improve existing methods of treatment.

A small number of cases are due to a degenerative disease, but for about 80 percent of scoliosis patients, the cause is unknown, said John T. Braun, M.D., assistant professor in the U School of Medicines Department of Orthopaedics and principal investigator in Utah.

"At present, there are three things we can do with scoliosis: observe, brace, and operate," said Braun. "Thats not necessarily enough. The field is ripe for innovation."

Most cases of scoliosis are mild (zero to 10-degree curve) and dont require any treatment. For patients with a 20- to 30-degree curve, a brace covering the entire torso is usually considered. For those with a 40- to 50-degree curve, surgery is an option, especially minimally invasive scoliosis surgery. Braun was the first to do this type of surgery -- a procedure utilizing a small camera called an endoscope -- in Utah three years ago. For patients with a 50-degree (or more) curve, surgery is necessary.

Another type of minimally invasive scoliosis surgery currently being pioneered by Braun in Utah involves fusionless treatment of curves. In contrast to standard fusion surgeries that require bone graft, this novel technique utilizes small implants to guide the growth of the spine. "Fusionless scoliosis surgery harnesses the inherent spinal growth and redirects it to achieve correction instead of progression of scoliosis," said Braun. Most of all, this procedure preserves motion, growth, and function of the spine.

The multicenter research being conducted by the Spinal Deformity Study Group includes retrospective and prospective components. The former looks closely at scoliosis patients who already have been treated, while the latter targets those who have not yet been treated.

Braun is participating in both studies, and is currently looking for patients to join the prospective component. Participants must be 8 to 18 years old, diagnosed with scoliosis, but not yet treated. They will be evaluated before, during, and after treatment.

"Our patients --whether theyre part of this study or not--get the best care available," said Braun. "But those who join the study will also be helping future generations in fighting scoliosis."

By following each participants progress throughout and after treatment, the Spinal Deformity Study Group will be able to compare information and find ways to lessen the pain, shorten surgery and recovery time, and improve spine correction for scoliosis patients in the future.

"This is the kind of study that cant be accomplished by just a few institutions," said Braun, noting the significance of the participation of 60 scoliosis centers worldwide.

Participants will be treated at the new $36 million U of U Orthopaedic Center, which offers the latest in orthopedic care. Located in Research Park, the center is part of U Hospitals & Clinics. For more information about joining the study, call (801) 587-5488.

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