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Namath S. Hussain and Mick J. Perez-Cruet

Spine surgery as we know it has changed dramatically over the past 2 decades. More patients are undergoing minimally invasive procedures. Surgeons are becoming more comfortable with these procedures, and changes in technology have led to several new approaches and products to make surgery safer for patients and improve patient outcomes. As more patients undergo minimally invasive spine surgery, more long-term outcome and complications data have been collected. The authors describe the common complications associated with these minimally invasive surgical procedures and delineate management options for the spine surgeon.

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Mick J. Perez-Cruet, Bong-Soo Kim, Faheem Sandhu, Dino Samartzis and Richard G. Fessler

Object. Various approaches exist for the treatment of thoracic disc herniation. Anterior approaches facilitate ventral exposure but place the intrathoracic contents at risk. Posterolateral approaches require extensive muscle dissection that adds to the risk of postoperative morbidity. The authors have developed a novel posterolateral, minimally invasive thoracic microendoscopic discectomy (TMED) technique that provides an approach to the thoracic spine which is associated with less morbidity.

Methods. Seven patients 23 to 54 years old with nine disc herniations underwent TMED. All lesions were soft lateral or midline thoracic disc herniations. Under fluoroscopic guidance with the patient positioned prone, the authors used a muscle dilation approach and the procedure was performed with endoscopic visualization through a tubular retractor.

Based on a modified Prolo Scale, five patients experienced excellent results, one good, and one fair. No case required conversion to an open procedure. The mean operative time was 1.7 hours per level, and estimated blood loss was 111 ml per level. Hospital stays were short, and no complications occurred.

Conclusions. The TMED is safe, effective, and provides a minimally invasive posterolateral alternative for treatment of thoracic disc herniation without the morbidity associated with traditional approaches.

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Hormoz Sheikh, Karen Zakharian, Ramiro Perez De La Torre, Christopher Facek, Adrian Vasquez, G. Rasul Chaudhry, David Svinarich and Mick J. Perez-Cruet


There is currently no biologic therapy to repair or restore a degenerated intervertebral disc. A potential solution may rest with embryonic stem cells (ESCs), which have a potential to grow indefinitely and differentiate into a variety of cell types in vitro. Prior studies have shown that ESCs can be encouraged to differentiate toward specific cell lineages by culture in selective media and specific growth environment. Among these lineages, there are cells capable of potentially producing nucleus pulposus (NP) in vivo. In this investigation, the authors studied ESCderived chondroprogenitors implanted into a degenerated disc in a rabbit. For this purpose, a rabbit model of disc degeneration was developed.


A percutaneous animal model of disc degeneration was developed by needle puncture of healthy intact discs in 16 New Zealand white rabbits. Series of spine MR imaging studies were obtained before disc puncture and after 2, 6, and 8 weeks. Prior to implantation, murine ESCs were cultured with cis-retinoic acid, transforming growth factor β, ascorbic acid, and insulin-like growth factor to induce differentiation toward a chondrocyte lineage. After confirmation by MR imaging, degenerated disc levels were injected with chondrogenic derivatives of ESCs expressing green fluorescent protein. At 8 weeks post-ESC implantation, the animals were killed and the intervertebral discs were harvested and analyzed using H & E staining, confocal fluorescent microscopy, and immunohistochemical analysis. Three intervertebral disc groups were analyzed in 16 rabbits, as follows: 1) Group A, control: naïve, nonpunctured discs (32 discs, levels L4–5 and L5–6); 2) Group B, experimental control: punctured disc (16 discs, level L2–3); and 3) Group C, experimental: punctured disc followed by implantation of chondroprogenitor cells (16 discs, level L3–4).


The MR imaging studies confirmed intervertebral disc degeneration at needle-punctured segments starting at ~ 2 weeks. Postmortem H & E histological analysis of Group A discs showed mature chondrocytes and no notochordal cells. Group B discs displayed an intact anulus fibrosus and generalized disorganization within fibrous tissue of NP. Group C discs showed islands of notochordal cell growth. Immunofluorescent staining for notochordal cells was negative for Groups A and B but revealed viable notochordal-type cells within experimental Group C discs, which had been implanted with ESC derivatives. Notably, no inflammatory response was noted in Group C discs.


This study illustrates a reproducible percutaneous model for studying disc degeneration. New notochordal cell populations were seen in degenerated discs injected with ESCs. The lack of immune response to a xenograft of mouse cells in an immunocompetent rabbit model may suggest an as yet unrecognized immunoprivileged site within the intervertebral disc space.