December 18, 2003
New procedure extracts growth factors from blood, may help fuse bones faster
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—After having surgery to fuse bones in his arthritic right ankle, Jimmy Davis figured he would be laid up about six months.
But he was back on his feet in half the time, aided by a new procedure that provides easy access to one of the body’s best bone “fertilizers”—growth factors from a patient’s own platelets.
“I had the surgery Aug.1 at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson and my doctor was amazed at how quickly it healed,” said Davis, a retired grocery store manager from Laurel. “He said the growth factor was what made it bond quicker and heal quicker.”
The procedure is made possible by a machine called the Symphony II, which uses a computer-controlled centrifuge to capture a high concentration of growth factors from about ¼ cup of the patient’s blood. These concentrated growth factors are then applied to the fusion or fracture site to promote healing.
The Symphony II was introduced in the Jackson area about a year ago, and is now being used by every major hospital in the metro area, said Don Fones, a sales representative for DePuy, the distributor of the machine.
Dr. Thom Tarquinio, president of the medical staff at Methodist and an associate professor of orthopedics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, used the Symphony II technology during Davis’ surgery.
And while he’s not ready to compare it to Miracle-Gro, Tarquinio has been encouraged enough to use it for another 23 cases at Methodist and UMC. “By looking at the X-rays, the fusions do appear to be healing more quickly,” he said.
Tarquinio said using bone grafts from a patient’s pelvic bone has traditionally been viewed as the best way to nurture bone growth. But since that method requires an incision and surgery in another area, surgeons have long been on the lookout for less invasive alternatives.
Tarquinio said one option has been to use growth factors known as bone morphogenic proteins (BMP), and a variety of companies now make different products to provide these proteins. “Trying to stimulate bone growth is a burgeoning field,” he said.
Some companies process cadaver bone so that minerals are removed and only BMP remains. Others genetically engineer the growth factors in a laboratory.
One problem with using cadaver bone is that you run a theoretical risk of transferring infection, said Tarquinio. And another disadvantage of commercially produced BMP is the expense.
“The genetically engineered BMP costs several thousand dollars and is not done in typical cases,” he said. In comparison, using the Symphony system is more affordable and provides growth factor from the patient’s own body.
Tarquinio said the growth factor can be applied to the patient’s fracture or fusion site in a variety of ways. “It can be injected with a syringe or we can mix the growth factor with crushed bone to get a product that can fill holes.”
Tarquinio says early results from using the Symphony method are “very favorable,” especially for ankle fusions. “That’s a hard area to get bone to fuse,” he said.
And it can be a particular challenge in locations where patients have a high rate of diabetes and smoking—like Mississippi. “Diabetes and smoking impact heavily on the bone cells’ ability to heal,” Tarquinio explained.
Tarquinio plans to continue to use the Symphony. And if he needs a satisfied customer to vouch for the system, Davis certainly fits the bill.
He’s ecstatic that his quick recovery has helped him regain his independence. “I’ve had rheumatoid arthritis for 30 years and it just kept eating away at my ankle joint. It got to where I couldn’t hardly walk. And the worst part was I couldn’t drive. I had to depend on people to take me where I wanted to go. Now my wife says I’ve been burning the road up.”