A new research program at The Methodist Hospital in Houston is the nation's first dedicated solely to advancing nanotechnology in orthopedics and spine surgery.
Dr. Bradley Weiner, chief of spinal surgery at Methodist, is the director of the Spine Advanced Technology Laboratory (SATL). Methodist Drs. Harvey Smith and Christopher Loo are co-directors.
"Nanotechology has the ability to affect things at a molecular level," Weiner said. "The use of nanotechnologies to treat disease or repair damaged tissues---such as bone, cartilage, muscle or nerve---might allow physicians to intervene more efficiently and safely than currently possible."
Researchers in the lab---working on-site and with collaborators within the Texas Medical Center and beyond---will be looking at various ways nanotechnology can improve the treatment of musculoskeletal disease.
"Using nanotechnology, we hope to be able to deliver drugs directly to the affected area thereby limiting exposure to other tissues. In the future, we hope to give an injection into the vein and, with sophisticated mapping, send it directly to specific musculoskeletal tissues, including the spine, and release the medication exactly where it is needed," Weiner said. "We are exploring many avenues of intervention such as the delivery of proteins to help bone formation when doing fusions and ways of delivering anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medications to help decrease musculoskeletal pain."
The lab is also developing a large biological database to improve treatments so surgeons can assess whether or not there is a genetic basis for groups of patients who do not have a good outcome during or after surgery.
"Once we determine why, we can develop screening processes and treatments for these patients and hopefully treat them early," Weiner said. "The ultimate goal is to prevent the need for large reconstructive procedures. We believe nanotechnology provides the tools to move in that direction."