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Chelsea Lee
Medical Research Editor

Chronic Low Back Pain Resolved by Engineers

August 15th, 2012

Lower back pain is said to be one of the most painful and difficult to deal with, and a whopping 85% of Americans are known to suffer from it.

Often the result of herniated or degenerated discs, back pain is commonly treated with a spinal fusion surgery which removes the cartilaginous disc and then fuses adjacent segments together.

Unfortunately, this particular orthopedic surgery has a less than 50% patient satisfaction rate.

This is probably largely due to the fact that fusion surgery works by preventing pain which is typically caused by movement in that area of the back, and therefore results in a stiff and motionless area of the patients’ spine.

But an exciting new treatment has been set in motion by a couple of engineering professors and several Brigham Young University alumni.

Professors Anton Bowden and Larry Howell, along with BYU alum Peter Halverson, came up with the idea to create an artificial disc that could replace herniated or degenerated ones in a person’s spine.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of the biomedical device is that the artificial disc would still allow for natural movement in the spine.

Brigham Young University has given licensure to a Utah based company, Crocker Spinal Technologies, to market the product.

A member of the BYU President’s Leadership Council, Gary Crocker, is the founder of the company and BYU MBA graduate David Hawkes runs it.

Professor Bowden talks of the encouraging nature of the device saying, "This device has the potential to alleviate that pain and restore the natural motion of the spine -- something current procedures can't replicate."

The device is further described as a compliant mechanism, a joint-less mechanism that utilizes flexibility to achieve movement such as a pair of tweezers.

Professor Howell describes the importance of the design by saying "To mimic the response of the spine is very difficult because of the constrained space and the sophistication of the spine and its parts.  A compliant mechanism is more human-like, more natural, and the one we've created behaves like a healthy disc."

BYU students studying engineering were able to participate in the building of prototypes and testing of the device in cadavers.

David Hawkes offers his own encouragement of the new treatment device saying, "Disc replacement is an emerging alternative to fusion that has the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of millions.”


Science Daily

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