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U of M orthopaedic surgeon: More research dollars needed to raise awareness around musculoskeletal disorders

Last month, University of Minnesota orthopaedic surgeon David W. Polly, M.D., joined physicians, researchers and patients from across the country in Washington, D.C., to urge Congress to restore National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) funding in an effort to reduce the impact of musculoskeletal diseases impacting Americans.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), who helped arrange the event alongside multiple clinical and research partners, nearly one in three Americans suffer from a musculoskeletal condition requiring medical care. Each year the conditions account for more than 507.9 million visits to clinical providers and more than 17.5 million hospital discharges.

Yet NIAMS research funding was reduced in FY 2013 and FY 2014 due to the U.S. Budget Control Act. Because NIAMS funding flows directly to researchers, the move has greatly diminished research that could yield new treatments and surgical techniques. Advocates would like to see Congress restore NIAMS funding to FY 2012 levels, which would mean an increase of $535.6 million in FY 2015.

Polly was joined in Washington, D.C., by one of his patients, Katie Morgan, who battled scoliosis for five years prior to receiving an operation that would correct a 62 degree spinal curve.

Dr. Polly and his patient, Katie Morgan

Katie Morgan battled scoliosis for five years before an advanced surgical approach fixed her condition, allowing her to live a normal life.

By the time she was 11, Katie’s condition had progressed to the point where she was experiencing constant upper back pain and shortness of breath. Polly surgical corrected that included a posterior spinal fusion of her T2-L1 vertebrae and an implantation of rods and screws that hold her spine straight, Katie’s pain is gone and she’s living the life of a normal teenager. Polly attributes outcomes like Katie’s directly to extensive training and the types of research that yield new patient options.

“The bottom line is that research is critical to advancing new treatments and therapy options that provide surgeons with innovative approaches to complex patient conditions,” said Polly. “Increases in research funding can have profound downstream impacts on patients, and that is the message we’re trying to send to Congress.”

Polly is a chief of spine surgery in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He holds the James W. Ogilvie Chair and is nationally and internationally recognized for biomechanics, scoliosis and outcomes research.

For more information on this event and the need for more orthopaedic and sports medicine research funding visit

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