Mayo Clinic researcher develops bio-expandable spinal bone graft

The Mayo Clinic's Lichun Lu is developing an expandable, biodegradable graft that could someday help metastatic spinal tumor patients recover from bone removal surgery.

To replace the removed bone segments and intervertebral discs that contain the tumor, doctors currently insert metal cages or bone grafts in the spinal cord via an incision in the chest, or expandable (but costly) titanium rods via a less invasive cut in the back.

"The overall goal of this research is to find ways to treat people with metastatic spinal tumors," Lu said in a release produced by the American Chemical Society during its ongoing annual meeting in San Diego. "The spine is the most common site of skeletal metastases in cancer patients, but unlike current treatments, our approach is less invasive and is inexpensive."

The graft is small enough to be implanted using a posterior spinal approach. Once inside the body the hydrophilic material absorbs fluids and expands to fill the space once occupied by the removed vertebrae.

"When we designed this expandable tube, we wanted to be able to control the size of the graft so it would fit into the exact space left behind after removing the tumor," Lu said. "By modulating the molecular weight and charge of the polymer, we are able to tune the material's properties."

Lu has received research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Next, she plans to study the device in cadavers simulate real-life procedures. Clinical trials could commence in the next couple of years.

- here's the release