Health Watch -- Growing New Bone

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A new procedure helps prevent some of the pain of spinal surgery.

Bone-fusion surgery is a common procedure performed to help treat back problems that come from fractured or broken vertebrae, spinal deformities and disc problems. While this surgery helps ease spinal pain, the usual method of doing bone-fusion surgery creates its own kind of pain and complications.

In this surgery, doctors take a graft of bone from the patient's pelvis and transplant it to the spine. That bone then bonds with the nearby vertebrae and generates new bone tissue. But orthopaedic surgeons at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say that taking the graft of bone from the pelvis can create some major problems. It's traumatic to the body to have bone removed this way, and it's quite painful. The result can be long surgery time, long hospital stays, blood loss and pain following the surgery.

Now a new procedure may make it easier for patients to get spinal relief without having a bone graft. Doctors now use a protein that stimulates bone formation to generate new tissue. The protein compound, called bone morphogenetic protein, or BMP, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for several procedures to heal and strengthen bones.

One procedure targets the lower back. Doctors remove a large portion of a degenerated disc through an abdominal incision, then replace the disc with a titanium cylinder filled with BMP. The BMP stimulates the patient's cells to produce more bone.