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Frank L. Acosta Jr., Jeffrey Lotz and Christopher P. Ames

Low-back pain is the most common health problem for men and women between 20 and 50 years of age, resulting in 13 million doctor visits in the US annually, with significant costs to society in terms of lost time from work and direct and indirect medical expenses. Although the exact origin of most cases of low-back pain remains unknown, it is understood that degenerative damage to the intervertebral disc (IVD) plays a central role in the pathogenic mechanism leading to this disorder. Current treatment modalities for disc-related back pain (selective nerve root blocks, surgical discectomy and fusion) are costly procedures aimed only at alleviating symptoms. Consequently, there is growing interest in the development of novel technologies to repair or regenerate the degenerated IVD. Recently, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been found to possess the capacity to differentiate into nucleus pulposus–like cells capable of synthesizing a physiological, proteoglycan-rich extracellular matrix characteristic of healthy IVDs. In this article, the authors review the use of MSCs for repopulation of the degenerating IVD. Although important obstacles to the survival and proliferation of stem cells within the degenerating disc need to be overcome, the potential for MSC therapy to slow or reverse the degenerative process remains substantial.

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Frank L. Acosta Jr., Henry E. Aryan, William R. Taylor and Christopher P. Ames


Surgical intervention for thoracolumbar burst fractures is indicated for patients with neurological deficits and/or evidence of severe spinal instability. The goals of surgery are decompression, deformity correction, and stabilization. Nevertheless, the optimal surgical strategy to achieve these goals remains a subject of debate. Short-segment pedicle screw fixation is associated with a 20 to 50% incidence of pedicle screw failure and progressive spinal deformity. Initial biomechanical and clinical studies have shown that reinforcement of short-segment pedicle screw fixation with vertebroplasty improves spinal stability and decreases instrument failure rates. In this study, the authors describe their initial clinical experience with kyphoplasty used to augment short-segment pedicle screw fixation of traumatic lumbar burst fractures.


Five patients with traumatic burst fractures of the lumbar spine were included in this retrospective review of patients treated for this disorder at the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, San Francisco between 2002 and 2004. All patients underwent transpedicular kyphoplasty and short-segment pedicle screw fixation. The mean follow-up period was 10.6 months (range 6–18 months). All patients underwent short-segment pedicle screw fixation reinforced with polymethyl methacrylate kyphoplasty. The preoperative, postoperative, and follow-up plain x-ray films were evaluated. Radiographic analysis included measurements of kyphotic angulation, anterior vertebral body height, and evidence of bone fusion. Clinical evaluation was performed postoperatively and at follow-up review.


Based on the authors' initial experience, kyphoplasty supplementation may improve the long-term integrity of short-segment pedicle screw constructs and allow for improved rates of fusion and better clinical outcomes in patients with traumatic lumbar burst fractures.

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Frank L. Acosta Jr., Cynthia T. Chin, Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, Christopher P. Ames, Philip R. Weinstein and Dean Chou

Establishing the diagnosis of cervical osteomyelitis in a timely fashion is critical to prevent catastrophic neurological injury. In the modern imaging era, magnetic resonance imaging in particular has facilitated the diagnosis of cervical osteomyelitis, even before the onset of neurological signs or symptoms. Nevertheless, despite advancements in diagnosis, disagreement remains regarding appropriate surgical treatment. The role of instrumentation and type of graft material after cervical decompression remain controversial. The authors describe the epidemiological features, pathogenesis, and diagnostic evaluation, and the surgical and nonsurgical interventions that can be used to treat osteomyelitis of the cervical spine. They also review the current debate about the role of instrumentation in preventing spinal deformity after surgical decompression for cervical osteomyelitis. Based on this review, the authors conclude that nonsurgical therapy is appropriate if neurological signs or symptoms, instability, deformity, or spinal cord compression are absent. Surgical decompression, debridement, stabilization, and deformity correction are the goals once the decision to perform surgery has been made. The roles of autogenous graft, instrumentation, and allograft have not been clearly delineated with Class I data, but the authors believe that spinal stability and decompression override creating an environment that can be completely sterilized by antibiotic drugs.