Spinal Surgery Protein Linked To Complications

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

In the U.S. back pain continues to be a leading cause of disability and one of the most common reasons to see a physician for evaluation. Among various treatment options is spinal fusion surgery, which may use a biological agent known as bone-morphogenetic protein (BMP).

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) found that BMP is used in 25 percent of spinal fusion surgeries and is associated with a higher rate of complications in certain types of fusions as well as greater hospital charges, compared to fusions that do not use BMP. This research appears in the June 30, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.


Researchers looked at the outcomes of more than 300,000 patients who underwent spinal fusion surgery. “The use of BMP in these surgeries jumped from less than one percent in 2002 to 25 percent in 2006,” said Kevin Cahill, MD PhD, of the Neurosurgery Department at BWH and lead author of the study. “With the use of BMP on the rise, this study illustrates the need to determine the cost-effectiveness of the product in different procedures.”

The researchers found that immediate postoperative, in-hospital rates of complications among patients undergoing spinal fusion by BMP use status were no higher for lumbar, thoracic, or posterior cervical procedures. However, the use of BMP in anterior cervical fusion procedures was associated with a higher rate of complication occurrence, with the primary increases seen in wound-related complications and dysphagia or hoarseness. BMP use was associated with a longer length of stay in the hospital and greater inpatient hospital charges across all categories of fusion, with an 11 to 41 percent increase in total hospital charges.

“This study has highlighted the need to continue to develop refined guidelines for BMP usage and to further study its long-term risks and benefits,” concluded Dr. Cahill.