At Emory Healthcare, we’re always looking for new and better ways to treat patients. Bone healing, particularly after spine fusion surgery, is one of the many areas in which we’ve pioneered research that can significantly improve our patients’ quality of life. For more than two decades, the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center has been instrumental in developing technology to improve bone healing, accelerate the speed of healing, and prevent the need to “borrow” bone graft.
While some broken bones heal quickly and easily, certain types of leg bone fractures and high energy traumatic fractures often need extra help. In some cases, bone graft has been used in the treatment of difficult fractures, segmental bone loss, and fusion of other joints in the body that may have severe arthritis (e.g., foot joints). At Emory, spine fusion represents 50% of the reason our surgeons would harvest bone graft in the past. Many spine operations involve getting bone to grow in the spine, where it normally doesn’t grow. Also, for certain types of long spine fusions, there’s often not enough bone. Traditionally, the surgeon would harvest bone graft from the patient’s hip (pelvis). This process, called an iliac crest bone graft harvest, often causes patients to complain of chronic pain at the bone donor site.
So how do we accelerate bone healing and avoid the use of bone graft? Emory has participated in laboratory studies and clinical trials to work out the details of how to use special proteins in humans. The first procedure was approved by the FDA in 2002. The approval is for only very specific indications, so work is ongoing to optimize these proteins for more broad use. Since we at Emory are very familiar with the science and development of these proteins, we’re able to use them safely in a variety of individual patient cases. In some situations, use of these proteins can prevent the need for bone graft harvest from the hip and result in better healing.
Some of the newer bone-healing technologies have only limited approval by the FDA and can be associated with some local side effects, so their use is not as broad unless they are being used by a very experienced surgeon or as part of a research trial—such as those conducted at Emory. Over the next five to 10 years, you can expect these new bone healing technologies to be more commonly used. If you’re having surgery at Emory that requires bone grafting or bone healing, ask your surgeon whether bone healing technology is a viable option for you.
Have you had a bone graft or surgery using new bone-healing technology? We welcome your questions and feedback about accelerated bone healing in the comments section below. For more information on accelerated bone healing technology at Emory, watch the short video below:
About Dr. Boden
Scott D. Boden, MD, Director of the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, is an internationally renowned surgeon, lecturer, and teacher and the driving force behind the Emory University Orthopedics and Spine Hospital (EUOSH). Dr. Boden started practicing at Emory in 1992.