North Texas was home to a novel neck surgery this spring when a Kentucky resident traveled to Plano to have a new FDA-approved artificial cervical disc implanted at the Center for Disc Replacement at Texas Health Center for Diagnostics and Surgery.
The surgeons at the center, Drs. Blumenthal, Guyer, and Zigler are well-versed in artificial discs, as they were the first physicians in the country to implant any sort of artificial disc into a patient in 2000. Because of their expertise, they are often the leading edge for FDA studies of new artificial cervical and lumbar discs.
When cervical discs in the neck deteriorate and become less flexible, debilitating pain can shoot down the neck and shoulders because the discs can no longer absorb shock from neck movement. Prior to artificial solutions, discs were often fused together to eliminate neck and back pain, but fusion limits movement and flexibility. Other parts of the back and neck have to work harder to make up for the fused disc, often leading to more fusion surgeries and decreased movement.
Artificial discs allow patients to maintain movement and be three to five times less likely to need future surgery, says Dr. Jack Zigler, who was part of the team who performed the first operation with the new cervical disc, the M6. It is the eighth commercially available cervical disc in the US, and Zigler says more than half of the patients who come seeking treatment to the Center for Disc Replacement at THCDS are from out of the region. While patients should attempt a more conservative treatment before surgery, disc replacement can be an effective alternative to fusion if surgery is necessary.
Though still in the research stage, Zigler sees neck and back pain being treated with stem cells in the future, where a patient’s own cells may be used to heal the discs.. “The hope is that they can be encouraged to heal themselves, and stop degenerating before they get to the end stage,” he says.