researchers engineer synthetic spinal tissue to aid
surgery on discs
Doug Pence, clinical associate
professor of surgery at the KU School of Medicine
A spine is a simple thing, a column of bones
with gristly discs sandwiched between them. It's a simple
thing, that is, until it fails and surgery is needed.
At that point, surgeons need a good replica of a spine
that lets them test in advance how a surgery on one
part of a patient's backbone will change loads and pressures
Two KU scientists are working to perfect synthetic
soft material for use in constructing the discs and
ligaments of an artificial spine. The materials are
made of silicone embedded with wire and fabric meshes.
The scientists -- Elizabeth Friis, KU assistant professor
of mechanical engineering, and Doug Pence, clinical
associate professor of surgery at the KU School of Medicine
in Wichita -- are collaborating with Pacific Research
Laboratories, a Seattle company that makes synthetic
Elizabeth Friis, KU assistant
professor of mechanical engineering
"What we're doing is putting together our soft
tissue with their bones to form a mechanical version
of a lumbar spine segment," said Friis.
Friis is applying to the National Institutes of Health
and private foundations for funding. With funding, she
said, the artificial spine could be ready in two years
The artificial spine will be useful in the future when
spinal surgeons do disc implants. Such surgery is in
clinical trials in the United States, Friis said.
"A lot of types of implants are being designed
but not tested sufficiently," she said. "Our
model reproduces the motion of the human spine and will
let you test the consequences of implants before they're
put into patients.
"We've received a lot of attention from implant