Scientists develop new test to measure titanium levels in the blood of patients with spine implants

Jul 28 2011
Certain types of implants used in spinal surgery have come under scrutiny in recent years, providing yet another reason for trying conservative back pain treatment options before considering an operation.

Previous studies found that titanium implants - which have traditionally been used in spine surgery as well as in dentistry - degrade over time and release the chemical element into the bloodstream. Doctors have been concerned about the impact of this contamination on the liver and kidneys of patients who received such implants.

Now, healthcare providers may have a new tool to measure the levels of titanium in the blood of such individuals, as an article in the July issue of Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry has described a new testing method.

Researchers from the University of Oviedo in Spain discovered how to accurately measure the normal blood levels of titanium and compare them to those seen in patients with implants.

In order to do so, the scientists analyzed blood samples of 37 individuals with titanium implants and 40 people without them, using isotope dilution analysis and mass spectrometry. The method proved to be highly sensitive in that it showed very low levels of titanium in the control group and significantly higher levels in the treated individuals. The team also concluded that, compared to external devices, more invasive implants contributed to greater amounts of metallic debris eventually making their way into the bloodstream.

The authors praised the method for its simplicity, accuracy and precision, and concluded that it could be used on a routine basis as a diagnostic tool.

Individuals who experience lower back pain symptoms are encouraged to consult their healthcare providers for advice on non-surgical treatment options that may help them avoid an operation down the road. These include anti-inflammatory medications, hot and cold compresses, limited bed rest, physical therapy and epidural injections.