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Physicians Update


Physicians Update

Spring 2010

Comprehensive Approach Offers More Options to Spine Patients


Physicians Update Spring 2010-Spine SurgeonThe latest spine technologies make it easier and more common than ever for patients to receive high-tech spine surgeries, often without having to spend a single night in the hospital. But experts at the UCLA Comprehensive Spine Center say that surgery is just one of many options to be considered by patients and their physicians to treat most spinal conditions and injuries. The goal, says UCLA spine surgeon Jeffrey Wang, M.D., is to ensure that patients with spine problems, large or small, receive appropriate, individualized care.

“We treat the whole patient,” Dr. Wang explains. “We employ the expertise of a team of interdisciplinary specialists, including orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, physiatrists, pain-management specialists and many other nonsurgical services, to identify the best solution for each patient.”

When surgery is required, UCLA offers leading-edge technologies that enable patients to resume their normal activities much sooner, with less blood loss, scarring and pain and with fewer complications. One of the most important advances in clinical spine surgery, for example, is the use of natural growth factors to help the spine heal more effectively.

“Ten years ago, we had to take a bone graft from the patient before we could perform spinal fusion,” Dr. Wang says. “Now, the field of biologics enables us to use bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) to stimulate bone growth rather than perform an extra procedure.”

UCLA is also a leading center for performing minimally invasive spine procedures. Many of these operations are performed as outpatient procedures, and patients often leave the hospital just hours after surgery.

“We perform many surgeries using minimally invasive techniques, with no difference in efficacy or clinical outcomes,” says UCLA spine surgeon Langston Holly, M.D. Dr. Holly says the UCLA Comprehensive Spine Center consistently measures and evaluates outcomes such as length-of-stay, complication rates and infection rates to ensure treatments are clinically effective and patients have the best chance for recovery. This approach is also used in evaluating popular new technologies, such as artificial motion-preservation devices.

“There are a plethora of new spine devices that have not yet been proven clinically effective,” Dr. Wang explains. “We review research data, discuss new technologies during educational conferences, contribute to defining their use and introduce them to our patients in an appropriate manner.”

UCLA not only evaluates new spine technologies but also develops them. It is one of only a few centers in the nation to receive National Institutes of Health funding for spine research, according to Dr. Holly, who received a grant to prospectively study the use of advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as a way to detect spinal degenerative disease and spinal cord nerve injuries before patients even become aware they have a problem.

“Once the symptoms become obvious, it is difficult to reverse the damage that’s already been done,” Dr. Holly explains. His objective is to use imaging to follow patients over time in order to detect problems that may develop with their spinal cord function, nerve function and mobility. Earlier detection will lead to earlier treatment and better outcomes, he says. Knowledge gleaned from the study may also enable researchers to develop a method to stage the severity of spinal disease, which may improve prognostic capabilities and help patients make better decisions about whether or not to undergo surgery.

To learn more about the UCLA Comprehensive Spine Center, go to:

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