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Rachel Sarabia-Estrada, Alejandro Ruiz-Valls, Sagar R. Shah, A. Karim Ahmed, Alvaro A. Ordonez, Fausto J. Rodriguez, Hugo Guerrero-Cazares, Ismael Jimenez-Estrada, Esteban Velarde, Betty Tyler, Yuxin Li, Neil A. Phillips, C. Rory Goodwin, Rory J. Petteys, Sanjay K. Jain, Gary L. Gallia, Ziya L. Gokaslan, Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, and Daniel M. Sciubba


Chordoma is a slow-growing, locally aggressive cancer that is minimally responsive to conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy and has high local recurrence rates after resection. Currently, there are no rodent models of spinal chordoma. In the present study, the authors sought to develop and characterize an orthotopic model of human chordoma in an immunocompromised rat.


Thirty-four immunocompromised rats were randomly allocated to 4 study groups; 22 of the 34 rats were engrafted in the lumbar spine with human chordoma. The groups were as follows: UCH1 tumor–engrafted (n = 11), JHC7 tumor–engrafted (n = 11), sham surgery (n = 6), and intact control (n = 6) rats. Neurological impairment of rats due to tumor growth was evaluated using open field and locomotion gait analysis; pain response was evaluated using mechanical or thermal paw stimulation. Cone beam CT (CBCT), MRI, and nanoScan PET/CT were performed to evaluate bony changes due to tumor growth. On Day 550, rats were killed and spines were processed for H & E–based histological examination and immunohistochemistry for brachyury, S100β, and cytokeratin.


The spine tumors displayed typical chordoma morphology, that is, physaliferous cells filled with vacuolated cytoplasm of mucoid matrix. Brachyury immunoreactivity was confirmed by immunostaining, in which samples from tumor-engrafted rats showed a strong nuclear signal. Sclerotic lesions in the vertebral body of rats in the UCH1 and JHC7 groups were observed on CBCT. Tumor growth was confirmed using contrast-enhanced MRI. In UCH1 rats, large tumors were observed growing from the vertebral body. JHC7 chordoma–engrafted rats showed smaller tumors confined to the bone periphery compared with UCH1 chordoma–engrafted rats. Locomotion analysis showed a disruption in the normal gait pattern, with an increase in the step length and duration of the gait in tumor-engrafted rats. The distance traveled and the speed of rats in the open field test was significantly reduced in the UCH1 and JHC7 tumor–engrafted rats compared with controls. Nociceptive response to a mechanical stimulus showed a significant (p < 0.001) increase in the paw withdrawal threshold (mechanical hypalgesia). In contrast, the paw withdrawal response to a thermal stimulus decreased significantly (p < 0.05) in tumor-engrafted rats.


The authors developed an orthotopic human chordoma model in rats. Rats were followed for 550 days using imaging techniques, including MRI, CBCT, and nanoScan PET/CT, to evaluate lesion progression and bony integrity. Nociceptive evaluations and locomotion analysis were performed during follow-up. This model reproduces cardinal signs, such as locomotor and sensory deficits, similar to those observed clinically in human patients. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first spine rodent model of human chordoma. Its use and further study will be essential for pathophysiology research and the development of new therapeutic strategies.

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Rory J. Petteys, Steven M. Spitz, C. Rory Goodwin, Nancy Abu-Bonsrah, Ali Bydon, Timothy F. Witham, Jean-Paul Wolinsky, Ziya L. Gokaslan, and Daniel M. Sciubba


Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) frequently metastasizes to the spine, causing pain or neurological dysfunction, and is often resistant to standard therapies. Spinal surgery is frequently required, but may result in high morbidity rates. The authors sought to identify prognostic factors and determine clinical outcomes in patients undergoing surgery for RCC spinal metastases.


The authors searched the records of patients who had undergone spinal surgery for metastatic disease at a single institution during a 12-year period and retrieved data for 30 patients with metastatic RCC. The records were retrospectively reviewed for data on preoperative conditions, treatment, and survival. Statistical analyses (i.e., Kaplan-Meier survival analysis and log-rank test in univariate analysis) were performed with R version 2.15.2.


The 30 patients (23 men and 7 women with a mean age of 57.6 years [range 29–79 years]) had in total 40 spinal surgeries for metastatic RCC. The indications for surgery included pain (70%) and weakness (30%). Fourteen patients (47%) had a Spinal Instability Neoplastic Score (SINS) indicating indeterminate or impending instability, and 6 patients (20%) had a SINS denoting instability. The median length of postoperative survival estimated with Kaplan-Meier analysis was 11.4 months. Younger age (p = 0.001) and disease control at the primary site (p = 0.005), were both significantly associated with improved survival. In contrast, visceral (p = 0.002) and osseous (p = 0.009) metastases, nonambulatory status (p = 0.001), and major comorbidities (p = 0.015) were all significantly associated with decreased survival. Postoperative Frankel grades were the same or had improved in 78% of patients. Major complications occurred in 9 patients, and there were 3 deaths (10%) during the 30-day in-hospital period. Three en bloc resections were performed.


Resection and fixation may provide pain relief and neurological stabilization in patients with spinal metastases arising from RCC, but surgical morbidity rates remain high. Younger patients with solitary spinal metastases, good neurological function, and limited major comorbidities may have longer survival and may benefit from aggressive intervention.

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Daniel M. Sciubba, E. Clif Burdette, Jennifer J. Cheng, William A. Pennant, Joseph C. Noggle, Rory J. Petteys, Christopher Alix, Chris J. Diederich, Gabor Fichtinger, Ziya L. Gokaslan, and Kieran P. Murphy


Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) has proven to be effective for treatment of malignant and benign tumors in numerous anatomical sites outside the spine. The major challenge of using RFA for spinal tumors is difficulty protecting the spinal cord and nerves from damage. However, conforming ultrasound energy to match the exact anatomy of the tumor may provide successful ablation in such sensitive locations. In a rabbit model of vertebral body tumor, the authors have successfully ablated tumors using an acoustic ablator placed percutaneously via computed tomography fluoroscopic (CTF) guidance.


Using CTF guidance, 12 adult male New Zealand White rabbits were injected with VX2 carcinoma cells in the lowest lumbar vertebral body. At 21 days, a bone biopsy needle was placed into the geographical center of the lesion, down which an acoustic ablator was inserted. Three multisensor thermocouple arrays were placed around the lesion to provide measurement of tissue temperature during ablation, at thermal doses ranging from 100 to 1,000,000 TEM (thermal equivalent minutes at 43°C), and tumor volumes were given a tumoricidal dose of acoustic energy. Animals were monitored for 24 hours and then sacrificed. Pathological specimens were obtained to determine the extent of tumor death and surrounding tissue damage. Measured temperature distributions were used to reconstruct volumetric doses of energy delivered to tumor tissue, and such data were correlated with pathological findings.


All rabbits were successfully implanted with VX2 cells, leading to a grossly apparent spinal and paraspinal tissue mass. The CTF guidance provided accurate placement of the acoustic ablator in all tumors, as corroborated through gross and microscopic histology. Significant tumor death was noted in all specimens without collateral damage to nearby nerve tissue. Tissue destruction just beyond the margin of the tumor was noted in some but not all specimens. No neurological deficits occurred in response to ablation. Reconstruction of measured temperature data allowed accurate assessment of volumetric dose delivered to tissues.


Using a rabbit intravertebral tumor model, the authors have successfully delivered tumoricidal doses of acoustic energy via a therapeutic ultrasound ablation probe placed percutaneously with CTF guidance. The authors have thus established the first technical and preclinical feasibility study of controlled ultrasound ablation of spinal tumors in vivo.

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Daniel M. Sciubba, Rory J. Petteys, Mark B. Dekutoski, Charles G. Fisher, Michael G. Fehlings, Stephen L. Ondra, Laurence D. Rhines, and Ziya L. Gokaslan

With continued growth of the elderly population and improvements in cancer therapies, the number of patients with symptomatic spinal metastases is likely to increase, and this is a condition that commonly leads to debilitating neurological dysfunction and pain. Advancements in surgical techniques of resection and spinal reconstruction, improvements in clinical outcomes following various treatment modalities, generally increased overall survival in patients with metastatic spine disease, and a recent randomized trial by Patchell and colleagues demonstrating the superiority of a combined surgical/radiotherapeutic approach over a radiotherapy-only strategy have led many to suggest increasingly aggressive interventions for patients with such lesions. Optimal management of spinal metastases encompasses numerous medical specialties, including neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, medical and radiation oncology, radiology, and rehabilitation medicine. In this review, the clinical presentation, diagnosis, and management of spinal metastatic disease are discussed. Ultimately, the goal of treatment in patients with spinal metastases remains palliative, and clinical judgment is required to select the appropriate patients for surgical intervention.

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Daniel M. Sciubba, Rory J. Petteys, Sophia F. Shakur, Ziya L. Gokaslan, Edward F. McCarthy, Michael T. Collins, Matthew J. McGirt, Patrick C. Hsieh, Clarke S. Nelson, and Jean-Paul Wolinsky

En bloc spondylectomy represents a radical resection of a spinal segment most often reserved for patients presenting with a primary extradural spine tumor or a solitary metastasis in the setting of an indolent, well-controlled systemic malignancy. The authors report a case in which en bloc spondylectomy was conducted to control a metabolically active spine tumor. A 56-year-old woman, who suffered from severe tumor-induced osteomalacia, was found to have a fibroblast growth factor-23–secreting phosphaturic mesenchymal tumor in the T-8 vertebral body. En bloc resection was conducted, leading to resolution of her tumor-induced osteomalacia. This case suggests that radical spondylectomy may be beneficial in the management of metabolically or endocrinologically active tumors of the spine.

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Daniel M. Sciubba, Rory J. Petteys, Giannina L. Garces-Ambrossi, Joseph C. Noggle, Matthew J. McGirt, Jean-Paul Wolinsky, Timothy F. Witham, and Ziya L. Gokaslan

Sacral tumors pose significant challenges to the managing physician from diagnostic and therapeutic perspectives. Although these tumors are often diagnosed at an advanced stage, patients may benefit from good clinical outcomes if an aggressive multidisciplinary approach is used. In this review, the epidemiology, clinical presentation, imaging characteristics, treatment options, and published outcomes are discussed. Special attention is given to the specific anatomical constraints that make tumors in this region of the spine more difficult to effectively manage than those in the mobile portions of the spine.