Olomouc Neurosurgeon Develops New Intervertebral Implant

Head Physician Lumír Hrabálek with the intervertebral implant. PHOTO: Velena Mazochová
monday 17. july 2017, 12:57 - Text: Velena Mazochová, Egon Havrlant

The head of the Department of Neurosurgery of the Olomouc Teaching Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry of Palacký University Olomouc has developed a unique intervertebral implant. Its goal is a less-invasive approach during the implantation of intervertebral disc replacements, quicker relief from pain, and more reliable healing of bone. The implant, the first of its kind in the world, will be used in operations starting in the autumn.

Neurosurgeons to date have been replacing discs with implants made from PEEK thermoplastic material. “This is an artificial material which is slightly springy, it is soft, it works well, and its production is relatively inexpensive. But for the required stability and subsequent healing however, it is not ideal,” stated Hrabálek.

A material which “bites” better

Choosing the right material for the original implant was one of Hrabálek’s main priorities. It is an amalgam of titanium, aluminium, and vanadium, which is a commonly used and time-tested material which the human body is well able to tolerate.

“It exhibits what is called ‘primary stability’ – it ‘bites’ better, and holds on, right from the instant of implantation,” he explained. What is more, it is the first type of replacement which is capable of adjusting to the specific size of the intervertebral interval.

The implant comes in twelve basic sizes; as opposed to ordinary implants, one of its components is an integrated splint. “It can be screwed in, which increases the stability of the implant,” he explained. Fixing the vertebrae, fusion, occurs by the bone mass growing into the inner space of the implant, which subsequently spreads and connects to the bone tissue of the spine.

Immediate post-operative pain relief

Development of this original idea is connected with the modern XLIF operating method, which Olomouc neurosurgeons began to use during operations on the spine in 2009 – the first in the country to do so.

The intervention takes place through the help of sidereal access to the spine, which allows them to avoid the organs in the abdominal cavity and the major blood vessels. The intervertebral area is accessed through the help of special instruments which protect the surrounding tissue. The incision is not greater than five to six centimetres.

The replacement operation on one disc lasts roughly 75 minutes. It mainly helps patients with the diagnosis of discopathy – a disease of the intervertebral discs, which degenerate with advancing age, resulting in the instability of the spine. Those suffering from the disease feel intense back pain, sometimes shooting into the lower extremities.

“Pain relief should be almost instantaneous,” added Hrabálek. The world premiere of the first operation on the spine using the original technique is planned for autumn.