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Tuesday, March 26 2013
Press release

Revolution in orthopedic surgery at CHU Sainte-Justine and Polytechnique Montréal

Patients will regain a normal spinal column thanks to the Chair in Spinal Biomechanics, which has been renewed to pave the way for the future of surgery

Montréal, March 26Caroline Villeneuve and Jordan Lemay are among the 2% to 3% of young Quebecers who have idiopathic scoliosis, a three-dimensional deformity of the spine that predominantly affects young girls, although the reason why is still not clearly understood. With the renewal of the NSERC/Medtronic Industrial Research Chair in Spine Biomechanics, whose Chairholder is Professor Carl-Éric Aubin of Polytechnique Montréal and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre, children and adults with spinal problems, like Caroline and Jordan, will benefit someday from the “surgery of the future” that researchers are currently working on.

After wearing a brace for nine months, Caroline had to undergo surgery in 2010 because of the rapid progression of the three-dimensional deformity in her spine. The surgery was carried out by Dr. Stefan Parent at CHU Sainte-Justine, a world-renowned centre for the treatment of this condition. After a five-hour operation, Caroline emerged with two metal rods and 20 screws, 10 fused vertebrae and a 12-inch scar. She was able to start walking only two days after the surgery. Just a few years ago, she would have had to wear a plaster cast, been immobile and remain in hospital for several months.

Today, Caroline is a radiant 16-year-old girl who will finish her Secondary 5 year of high school in a few months. She has written a “survival guide” for patients diagnosed with scoliosis. She no longer has any medical limitations and is getting ready to compete in the finals of the Blainville en Chansons music competition.

Jordan is a cheerful 10-year-old boy who was recently diagnosed with progressive scoliosis and will undergo corrective spinal surgery during the summer.

Caroline and Jordan say they owe a great deal to the Montréal research teams that are working on perfecting orthopedic surgical tools, such as the team headed by Professor Aubin of Polytechnique Montréal, who is also a researcher at CHU Sainte-Justine and holder of the NSERC/Medtronic Industrial Research Chair in Spine Biomechanics.

As a result of the advances made in the past five years, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Medtronic have renewed their support, thereby giving this chair a second five-year mandate to continue its work. The two institutions will each contribute $875,000, for a total of $1.75 million; Medtronic will also make an in-kind contribution of $519,000.

Engineering and medicine join forces to optimize treatments

Corrective surgery for scoliosis is complicated. Selecting the section of the spine to operate on, the type of implant to use, the forces to apply and predicting how the spine will adjust are just some of the challenges facing surgeons who operate using an empirical approach. During the first term of the chair, Professor Aubin asked the best surgeons in the world to share the strategies they would use to operate on a specific case put forward by the team of researchers in Montréal. The result: 30 surgeons came up with 30 different strategies.

Between 2007 and 2012, the Polytechnique/CHU Sainte-Justine team developed many tools to solve problems that orthopedic surgeons face when treating spinal conditions such as scoliosis, spondylolisthesis and poor balance. The research work carried out by the chair helped develop a spine surgery simulator, micro-implants to control the growth of the spine, as well as a variety of multifunctional operating tables.

The renewed support from the NSERC and Medtronic will enable Professor Aubin’s team to work through until 2018 on new projects that will include designing simulation tools aimed at better understanding the underlying principles of the treatments, designing and validating innovative devices that do not require fusing the vertebrae and that are as minimally invasive as possible, as well as developing a navigation/simulation system, similar to GPS, to assist and optimize surgeries, thereby changing the very concept of what will become the “operating room of the future.” The system will use cameras to determine the positioning of the surgeon’s tools and of the anatomic structures. During the surgery, the software will simulate the installation of the implants as well as the corrective manoeuvres, and indicate the precise adjustments to make to preoperative planning in order to optimize the surgery.

“It takes many years of work to make small advances in the treatment of conditions as complex as idiopathic scoliosis,” emphasizes Professor Aubin, who is also chief of the musculoskeletal disorders and rehabilitation axis at CHU Sainte-Justine. “The cases of Caroline, Jordan and other patients treated at CHU Sainte-Justine are, however, a great source of motivation for me and my team. We need the support provided by NSERC and Medtronic to continue our research and we are very grateful to them.”

For his part, Dr. Fabrice Brunet, Chief Executive Officer of CHU Sainte-Justine, says: “The work done by the NSERC/Medtronic Chair is fully in keeping with a value that CHU Sainte-Justine promotes: research results that benefit patients directly. This is made possible by the fact that our researchers are directly involved with the patients at every stage of their journey in our hospital. We couldn’t imagine a better way of integrating research and care.”

And Christophe Guy, Chief Executive Officer of Polytechnique Montréal, adds: “I am very pleased that the research activities will continue for a second five-year term, thanks to the renewed support of the NSERC and Medtronic. It is a significant gesture of confidence that confirms the excellence of the work being done and the desire to continue working steadily to treat such a complex condition.”

“We are proud to support the ongoing and ground-breaking research of Pr. Aubin and his team,” said Mr. Terry Finley, Senior Director of Restorative Therapies Group, Medtronic of Canada. “ His pioneering in biomechanical engineering and medical technologies has benefitted and enabled so many patients, particularly people living with scoliosis, to live full, pain-free lives, and has led innovation in Quebec.”

– 30 –

For information

Carl-Éric Aubin, professor and chairholder, Dr. Stefan Parent, orthopedic surgeon and Caroline Villeneuve, patient, will be available for interviews.

Available upon request:

  • Caroline Villeneuve’s story
  • Computer-generated images
  • Fact sheet and a patient’s journey
  • Photos of Professor Carl-Éric Aubin with Caroline Villeneuve, Jordan Lemay and Dr. Stefan Parent

Source and information:
Nathalie Rochette
Communications Advisor
Communications and Public Relations Office
Polytechnique Montréal
Tel.: 514 340-4711, ext. 2339
Cell: 514 941-5660

Persons mentioned in the text

About the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center
The Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center is a leading mother-child research institution affiliated with the Université de Montréal. It brings together more than 1200 people, including over 250 researchers and 450 graduate and post-graduate students who carry out fundamental, clinical, translational, and evaluative research on mother and child health. Research work falls under six research axes, namely Health Outcomes; Brain Diseases; Musculoskeletal Diseases and Rehabilitation; Viral and Immune Disorders and Cancers; Fetomaternal and Neonatal Pathologies; and Metabolic Health. It is focused on finding innovative prevention means, faster and less invasive treatments, as well as personalized approaches to medicine. The Center is part of the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre, which is the largest mother-child centre in Canada and the second most important pediatric center in North America. www.chu-Sainte-Justine.org/research/

About the CHU Sainte-Justine
The Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre is the largest mother-child centre in Canada and the second most important pediatric centre in North America. It is a member of the Réseau d’excellence en santé of the Université de Montréal (RUIS). Its team is composed of 5 153 employees, including 1 392 nurses and auxiliary nurses; 1 036 health care professionals; 520 doctors, dentists and pharmacists; more than 250 researchers; 300 volunteers; and 3 400 interns and students of all disciplines. It has 484 beds, 35 of which are located at the Rehabilitation Centre Marie Enfant, the only pediatric rehabilitation centre in Quebec. The WHO has accredited the CHU Sainte-Justine as a “Health Promoting Hospital.” www.hsj.qc.ca

NSERC is a federal agency that helps make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for all Canadians. The agency supports some 30,000 post-secondary students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding more than 12,000 professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging about 2,000 Canadian companies to participate and invest in post-secondary research projects. www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca

About Medtronic
Medtronic of Canada Ltd. is a trusted Canadian leader delivering innovative health system solutions and advanced medical technologies to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life in the areas of cardiovascular medicine, diabetes, spinal and neurosurgery, and ear, nose, throat surgery. Medtronic is proud to employ more than 745 Canadians. Headquartered in Brampton, Ontario, Medtronic has regional offices in Vancouver and Montreal, including a manufacturing facility, Medtronic CryoCath, located in Pointe-Claire, Quebec. www.medtronic.ca
Medtronic, Inc. (www.medtronic.com), headquartered in Minneapolis, is the global leader in medical technology – alleviating pain, restoring health, and extending life for millions of people around the world.

About Polytechnique Montréal
Founded in 1873, Polytechnique Montréal is one of Canada's leading engineering teaching and research institutions. It is the largest engineering university in Québec for the size of its student body and the scope of its research activities. With over 40,000 graduates, Polytechnique Montréal has educated nearly one-quarter of the current members of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec. Polytechnique provides training in 15 engineering specialties, has 242 professors and more than 7,100 students. It has an annual operating budget of over $200 million, including a $72-million research budget. www.polymtl.ca

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Updated on 9/9/2014
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