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U of M surgeon leads charge to improve procedure he originally helped pioneer

Photo: David Polly

The first x-ray shows the most common type of scoliosis, a single right thoracic curve. The second x-ray shows correction with maximum number of screws. The third shows the correction with a lesser number of screws.

According to the National Scoliosis Foundation, one to two in every 100 people worldwide are affected by scoliosis – an abnormal curvature of the spine. Of those, one in 10,000 will require surgery for the medical condition, which primarily affects young teens.The University of Minnesota alone sees more than 40 scoliosis surgeries each year.

David Polly, Jr., M.D., in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Spine Service recently received a $300,000 grant from the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation to research methods that may improve how scoliosis is surgically repaired.

In a process originally pioneered by Polly, today’s scoliosis correction surgery corrects spinal curvatures by inserting two screws into every spinal vertebra suffering from an unnatural curve.

Now, Polly and his U of M team are leading 10 institutions across the nation including the Mayo Clinic, John Hopkins Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital in a first-of-it’s-kind randomized trial looking at how many pedicles – the bony connections between the front and back of the spine – need surgical screws implanted to correct spinal curvature caused by scoliosis.

“Currently, there are cost and safety considerations to the procedure,” said Polly, who notes the special screws used in the surgery cost about $1,000 each. The more screws inserted into the spinal vertebrae, the higher the risk of nerve injury and paralysis becomes. Malpositioned screws can also result in less than ideal results.

“If we can get the same amount of correction in the spine with lower cost and safety risks it would be a potential way to improve safety and save money in the health care system.”

We’ll continue to update Health Talk readers on Polly’s work in the future.  For now, check out the chart below for examples of the kind of improvements Polly and his colleagues are looking to make for scoliosis patients.

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