January 20, 1997

Media Contacts: Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 - sgoodwi@emory.edu
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371 - covnic@emory.edu

Four of the nation's most prestigious honors for research and treatment of spinal disorders recently were awarded to faculty of The Emory Spine Center.

"Never has any single section at any institution come up with the four top awards," says Lamar Fleming, M.D., chairman of the Department of Orthopaedics, Emory University School of Medicine. "This is especially meaningful because it acknowledges the interrelatedness of Emory's approach to complex spinal disorders, an approach which involves orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, rehabilitation medicine specialists, psychiatrists and anesthesiologists specializing in pain management."

The Leon Wiltze Award of the North American Spine Society went to Thomas E. Whitesides, M.D., professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Emory, at the Society's annual fall meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. The career award recognizes Dr. Whitesides' significant lifetime contributions to that body of knowledge concerned with the spine. Known as a back surgeon for whom "no case is too complicated" (he has offered relief and mobility to many patients with horrific back pain who had undergone multiple, unsuccessful surgeries). During more than 30 years at Emory, Dr. Whitesides has pioneered a number of unique approaches to spine surgery. The technique he developed in the 1960s to surgically access the spine through the chest rather through the back became an international standard, and his unusual means of accessing the upper cervical spine (via the lateral neck rather than through the mouth) greatly reduced complication rates. Most recently Dr. Whitesides has researched the negative effect of nicotine use on spinal fusion.

The Harry Faran Award of the North American Spine Society went to William C. Hutton, D.Sc., director of research for Emory's Department of Orthopaedics. This basic sciences career award acknowledges Dr. Hutton's decades-long devotion to spine research at the most basic, molecular and mechanical levels. Dr. Hutton has applied his training in biomechanical engineering to a variety of problems involving the function and dysfunction of cervical and spinal vertebrae.

He has used computer simulation to extensively investigate those lifting techniques which least compromise the back, abnormal movements of patients with back pain and the effect of twisting on the spine. One of Dr. Hutton's findings, for instance, refuted the popular belief that the back is injured when the body twists while bending forward. He found that the body cannot twist when bent forward because posterior vertebral elements lock up.

The year's Most Outstanding Scientific Paper on Spine Research, according to the North American Spine Society, was one authored by Scott Boden, M.D., director of The Emory Spine Center and assistant professor of Orthopaedics; Michael Marone, M.D., Ph.D., an Emory resident in Neurosurgery being mentored by Dr. Boden; and Peter Moskovits, M.D., of George Washington University. The paper is titled "A New Minimally Invasive Fusion Technique: Traditional Spinal Fusion Through Portal Approach Using Growth Factors."

The 1996 Research Grant Award from the North American Spine Society went to Dr. Boden and Dr. Marone, who are investigating genetic manipulation of the spinal fusion process. They are particularly interested in how the genes of osteoblasts (bone cells) express themselves through their protein products. The researchers hope to apply molecular biologic methods such as gene therapy to the create new bone or regenerate diseased discs.

In addition, Dr. Boden and Dr. Hutton received in 1995 Volvo Award from the International Society for the Lumbar Spine for their paper "The Use of an Osteoinductive Growth Factor for Lumbar Spinal Fusion."

For more general information on The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center, call Health Sciences News and Information at 404-727-5686, or send e-mail to hsnews@emory.edu.

Copyright ©Emory University, 1997. All Rights Reserved.
Send comments to whscweb@emory.edu