According to Sunday’s Minneapolis Tribune, minimally invasive, laparoscopic back surgery is expected to replace standard back surgeries in the United States by 2010. It has already been used outside the United States in a recent clinical trial involving 20 patients, including a Phoenix woman.
Making this possible is Disc Dynamics, Inc. (DDI), an Eden Prairie, Minn. company. As the company’s website states, DDI was established to develop a minimally invasive surgical alternative for treating low back pain. The DASCOR Disc Arthroplasty System was then developed by DDI for patients suffering from chronic low back pain caused by degenerative disc disease.
Back pain is serious business. According to the Tribune, back pain is the most common reason for time taken off work and second only to colds for visiting a doctor. The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 70 percent of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives. DDI estimates the potential market for devices and related biologics treating back maladies to be more than $4 billion in the United States in 2007; DDI also expects that to grow 20 percent annually.
As the Star Tribune reports, discs in the spine are flexible spacers between the bony vertebrae. The disc’s nucleus provides a cushion and can deteriorate from injury, aging or disease. When the nucleus deteriorates, the discs can rub against one another or against nerves, causing intense back and leg pain.
Using the DASCOR Disc Arthroplasty System, the surgeon makes a small incision to gain access to the nucleus by means of a catheter. The diseased nucleus is then removed. Another catheter with a balloon is inserted into opening. The balloon is inflated and filled with a liquid polymer substance that cures into a supple implant, acting as a cushion between the two discs. According to the Tribune, the process has been described as being similar to re-inflating a flat tire.
Of the 20 patients in the DDI clinical trial currently underway, 39-year-old Rebecca Neal of Phoenix is among them. According to the Tribune, Neal is a mail carrier and has been suffering excruciating lower back pain because of a herniated disc since 2005. She opted against standard surgery and enrolled in the DDI clinical trial. Two months after surgery with the DASCOR device, Neal is back at work and is able to walk 5 miles a day, as well as perform other activities that involve squatting, reaching, lifting and stooping.
According to the Tribune, the clinical trial patients, including Neal, are being followed for two years after surgery. If the trial is successful, DDI will begin a study of 350 patients in 2008 before seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell the device in the United States. If all goes as DDI expects, they will have FDA approval and be ready to use the DASCOR system in the United States in 2010.
Star Tribune, New Fix for Bad Backs, http://www.startribune.com/535/story/1235547.html
National Institutes of Health, http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/backpain.htm
Disc Dynamics, Inc., http://www.discdyn.com/about.html