Pioneering approach to spinal surgery improves post-operative success of lumbar spine implants

Valencia 14 November 2003The IST project, Design and Evaluation of Spine Implants (DEVASPIM), aims to improve the post-operative success rate for complex surgical procedures related to spine stabilisation. Part of the European eHealth initiative, the two-year DEVASPIM project is due for completion by the end of 2004. Yet with clinical trials well under way, the Spanish, French and Portuguese project partners are already confident that their achievements will change the medical approach to this type of surgery.


By the year 2020, almost 24 percent of the European Union's population (98,8 million) will be aged over 60 years, and the demand for operations associated with back pain and/or spine instability is certain to grow. Spine surgery is required to treat spine injuries. In most of the cases the disk and/or the vertebral bodies of the damaged area have to be removed, and a spine implant is necessary to stabilise the spine in the immediate post-operative phase.

The long-term stabilisation is usually achieved with a bone graft that will generate a bone fusion after three or four months. Meanwhile, the spine implant will support the loads generated in the spine. DEVASPIM focuses on the spinal implant assemblies necessary to stabilise the spine in the post-operative phase after any disks or damaged vertebrae have been removed. The implant supports the loads in the spine for the three or four months necessary for a bone graft to settle.

To date, pre-operative planning for the surgery and the selection of the spinal implant has depended exclusively on the experience and know how of the surgeon. By contrast, DEVASPIM's pioneering approach enables the surgeon to collaborate directly with the implant manufacturers to simulate the likely results of the operation, before even entering the theatre.

The system is based around an on-line site. This site provides an interface to a powerful computer system that takes the spinal implant suggested by the manufacturer and in minutes simulates the operation being planned by the surgeon. As well as offering pre-operative planning for the medical team, the site provides feedback of the results to the implant designers.

The system uses the finite element method to simulate the results of an operation. It is the first time that this approach has been used. Luis Sáez of lead partner Adapting SL in Valencia is positive about the results. "Our system offers a way of avoiding errors to the medical team, and a better chance of successful post-operative recovery for the patient."

The first phases of clinical trials using cadaver tests to fine-tune the model of the implant, are complete. The third and final phase to carry out is testing the integration of the implant with the spinal model. "Ultimately we want to develop a commercial service that can be used by any medical team involved in spinal surgery", stated Luis Sáez. "In our business model users will first have to subscribe to use the service, then there will be a payment each time the service is used. It is very innovative, no other team offers this kind of service."

Source for this article is the European IST Results news service. More information on the DEVASPIM project is available at the project's Web site.

Leslie Versweyveld

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