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Spinal cord transplants hot topic at medical conference



A week after several freeskiing competitors were transported off the mountain with back injuries, leading surgeons have praised B.C.’s medical system and revealed there has been some big developments in the treatment of spine trauma.

The surgeons were in town last week for the 16th annual Disorders of the Spine conference at the Westin Resort and Spa in Whistler.

This conference brings together more than 200 doctors, nurses and suppliers from around North America for six days to discuss new treatments and review what has happened to some of their patients.

Chairman of the conference, Dr. Glenn Rechtine, was confident that the conference would produce results on the operating table but he was also quick to point out how good he thought B.C.’s medical care was.

"You’ve got some really good surgeons up here and from what I’ve seen and heard the health care system works really well," Dr. Rechtine, who is from Florida, said on the penultimate day of the conference.

"The only problem in getting a spinal injury up here is that you’re two and half hours from Vancouver."

Dr. Rechtine, the late Dr. David Cahill and Dr. Reed Murtach started the conferences so doctors from the fields of orthopedics, radiography and neurosurgery could share and expand on their ideas about the treatment of spine trauma.

At this year’s conference, spinal cord transplants and techniques such as disc replacements were some of the hottest issues.

"Our field is changing all the time, I mean, we’ve got 73 different spine instrumentation systems here and it’s great to get it all under one roof," Dr. Rechtine said.

"There’s no one solution to any problem in medicine, and I think in life also, which is why this kind of stuff is important.

"We have an overview of surgical techniques and review what’s happened with our out-patients.

"We also do a lot of other things to help doctors get better organized, like right now we’re having sessions on how to use computers in the work place."

Dr. Alan Hilibrand, from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, said he was interested to hear about spinal cord transplants as he believed it is was one of the most potent developments in the field of orthopedics and neurosurgery.

"One thing that we’re going to hear a lot more about is spinal cord transplants, that’s a really hot topic at the moment," Dr. Hilibrand said.

"There’s been some trials but we’ve got to talk about it more because it certainly is a new thing."

Dr. Hilibrand added that he was also curious to ask about some new methods of dealing with disc replacements and the conference had given him a perfect opportunity to canvas the idea with other specialists.

"A conference like this really leads towards best practice type situations in every place of care," he said.

"You get to hear what they’re (other doctors) doing, and then what others are doing in other institutions.

"You know, when a patient comes in with spine trauma it’s knowing how long to wait to put them in traction, and then talking about the timing of the X-ray.

"There’s other areas too, like minimally invasive surgery; and I’m curious to hear how effective other’s have found it.

"And there really couldn’t be a better place to do it."

Any breakthroughs in the field of spinal research are critical not just because of what happens to the patient, but because treatment and recovery is usually incredibly long and expensive.

Among the notes presented at the conference was a statistic that showed there were 150,000 cases of spinal fractures in the U.S. last year and this cost U.S. taxpayers more than $10 billion US.

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