Regeneration breakthrough nears for discs

    Vancouver spine conference

    VANCOUVER, April 29 /CNW/ - Dr. Mark Erwin, a Toronto medical research
scientist, told a conference here this weekend that he and his team hope to
announce within the next few months a breakthrough that could eliminate
expensive and painful surgery for thousands of patients suffering from
degenerative disc disease.
    Dr. Erwin, a chiropractor who also has a PhD as a scientist, is an
Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of
Toronto and Toronto Western Hospital. He holds the Canadian Chiropractic
Research Foundation (CCRF) and Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
Chiropractic Research Chair at the University of Toronto.
    The conference brought together some of the foremost research scientists
in the world today dealing with neurophysiological issues. The British
Columbia Chiropractic Association (BCCA), with the support of the School of
Human Kinetics at the University of British Columbia and the School of
Kinesiology at Simon Fraser University, hosted these distinguished doctors and
scientists from several universities and major hospitals in Canada and the
U.S., including one from Harvard Medical School.
    One of the speakers, Dr. Greg Kawchuk of the University of Alberta and
the University of Calgary said he was grateful to meet so many distinguished
leaders in the field, adding that it is very rare that they have an
opportunity to compare notes. "There is no clubhouse where we all hang out.
This is a historic event, bringing us all together," Dr. Kawchuk said.
    Dr. Erwin's report was eagerly anticipated by all of the doctors and
scientists attending. He told the conference about his team's work concerning
the biology of notochord cells and degenerative disease of the intervertebral
disc. The investigation concerns the production of proteoglycan by nucleus
pulposus chondrocytes and various aspects of cell signalling. This research is
essential to enhancing our understanding of and the pathophysiology of this
    He told the conference that the average cost of "fusion" surgery to
stabilize degenerated discs is $37,000 in the U.S. and $25,000 in Canada.
There are 300,000 such procedures a year in the United States. The number is
growing fast each year and, "there is not much evidence that fusion really
works," Dr. Erwin said.
    Dr. Simon Dagenais of the University of Ottawa, said that spine problems
cost $200 billion a year in the United States, half in the direct cost for
treatment, hospitalization and surgery and the other half in indirect costs,
meaning lost employment, workplace productivity and related concerns. He said
it is third overall in surgery costs, and the number one issue for orthopaedic
and neurosurgery; number two in doctor visits each year and fifth overall
among all causes for hospitalization.

    Other conference highlights were:

    -  Harvard's Dr. Geoffrey Bove discussed the mechanisms of pain,
       particularly those associated with nerve injury and musculoskeletal
       disorders, and neurobiological mechanisms related to manual therapy.

    -  Dr. Jill Hayden of Toronto Western Hospital outlined the overwhelming
       amount of health and scientific literature produced each year in
       2 million new articles published by 40,000 biomedical journals -
       impossible for any doctor to absorb, even when narrowed down to their
       own specialty. She reported about The Cochrane Library, an
       international effort to index and update all of this literature in a
       manageable and more easily digestible fashion.

    -  UBC's Dr. Jean-Sebastien Blouin delivered an update on his landmark
       work that has achieved substantial media attention dealing with
       whiplash. His scientific presentation focused on neural control of
       deep and superficial neck muscles.

    -  Dr. Max Donelan, a SFU kinesiologist whose PhD is from the University
       of California (Berkeley), spoke about fundamental principles that
       underlie the physiology of leg locomotion as well as the application
       of these principles to improve human health.

    -  Dr. Deborah Kopansky-Giles, a professor at Canadian Memorial
       Chiropractic College, and a leader in an Ontario Ministry of Health
       funded project integrating chiropractic care into a multidisciplinary
       program at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, described an environment
       where physicians, chiropractors, nurses, physiotherapists and other
       health professionals work together to help patients recover from
       injuries to their muscles and joints and to help them prevent future
       injury. Patients, physicians and other hospital staff are pleased with
       the results and are actively supporting the need for a permanent

    Both UBC and SFU played important roles in supporting the conference.
Dr. Peter Ruben, the director of the School of Kinesiology at SFU, opening the
conference said, "Research drives education at all levels and clinical
practice at all levels and within all disciplines." Dr. Robert Sparks, the
director of the School of Human Kinetics at UBC, delivered the closing
remarks. He complimented the Canadian Chiropractic Research Foundation for its
"robust program" supporting university research, which "develops a body of
evidence that justifies and helps support clinical practice."
    BCCA Executive Director Dr. Don Nixdorf, who organized the conference,
said: "It is indescribable to us how proud we are to see members of our
profession, who also have outstanding credentials as research scientists,
working in partnership with other scientific and health professionals at the
front edge of new discoveries."
    While all of the speakers symbolized the integration of multiple health
and scientific disciplines into hospitals, medical situations and
universities, including chiropractic, several said that turf wars and bias
still keep most medical doctors and health administrators working in
jealously-guarded territory.
    Dr. Mark Erwin said "we are slowly breaking down these silos, but the
sacred cows are robustly out there grazing in the fields."

For further information:

For further information: Dr. Don Nixdorf, Executive Director, BC
Chiropractic Association, Phone: (604) 270-1332, e-mail:,

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British Columbia Chiropractic Association

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