An orthopedic surgeon is creating the world’s first implantation device that can lengthen the bones of young children internally. The inventor, a physician at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso), expects the device will lead to fewer infections and less pain, making the bone-lengthening process more bearable for children.
“Current limb-lengthening techniques are uncomfortable and can make kids feel socially awkward,” explains Amr Abdelgawad, M.D., the TTUHSC El Paso physician who’s creating the device. “They’re just not fun to have.”
Today’s standard bone-lengthening process requires cutting the bone in half and then placing a bulky, tubular frame around the limb for at least six to nine months. The frame, known as an external fixator, is joined to the broken bone through large pins that penetrate the skin. Overtime, the fixator slowly pulls the two halves of bone apart, which promotes new bone tissue to grow and form in between them.
Dr. Abdelgawad’s up-and-coming device has several advantages to this current method. It sidesteps the bulky frame, which is particularly uncomfortable for children, and it avoids penetrating the skin with pins, which often succumb to infection. No pins also means there will be much less pain and scarring, Dr. Abdelgawad says.
The device will be the first of its kind that can be used on children who still have growth plates. Growth plates are delicate structures that are vital for bone growth when we’re young; the plates eventually disappear as we age. Current internal bone-lengthening techniques cannot be used on children because they would damage the growth plate and impede growth.
Dr. Abdelgawad’s patent-pending device could completely avoid potential damage of the growth plate. The plan is for it to be entirely internal, requiring a single implantation of a thin, metal plate that attaches alongside the bone with screws. Using a handheld remote control, the patient can adjust the rod to extend slowly over time, thereby extending the bone.
“This is going to give children who need it access to bone-lengthening,” says Dr. Abdelgawad. “It’s going to help those who suffer from skeletal deformities like dysplasia, limb-length discrepancies or those who have suffered from bone trauma.”
The orthopedic surgeon presented his innovative bone-lengthener at the Children’s National Health System’s annual Pediatric Surgical Innovation Symposium in October. Out of 53 pediatric medical devices that were showcased, the bone-lengthener was recognized as one of the top eight innovations.
The device is still in the development phase and is co-patented with Noe Vargas Hernandez, an associate professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.