Researchers in Hong Kong have developed a new magnetic rod which they claim can treat children born with curved spine without the need for surgery every six months.
At present, straightening rods fixed to the spine have to be lengthened on an operating table under general anesthesia every six months to keep pace with the child's growth.
The researchers replaced these with a new type of magnetically-adjustable rod in five children aged five to 14 being treated for scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, at the Duchess of Kent Children's Hospital in Hong Kong.
During monthly clinic visits over two years, the rods were manipulated with an external, hand-held magnetic device placed over the implanted, internal magnet, said the study published in The Lancet medical journal.
A rotating mechanism within the rod caused it to extend and thus lengthen the spine.
"Our finding is that the rod can be remotely extended and the big advantage of this remote extension of the rod is that the patient does not need to undergo general anaesthaesia," study member Kenneth Cheung of the University of Hong Kong told AFP.
"They basically come back to our clinic once every month and we spend 30 seconds just to extend the rod and the patient can go back to school."
About three percent of all people suffer from scoliosis, and some 0.1 percent require straightening treatment, said Cheung.
Traditionally, doctors used screws and rods to straighten the spine of scoliosis patients and keep it in place, but in small children this hampered their growth.
The extendable rod has been in use for about five to 10 years, said Cheung.
A large-scale trial is being planned to see whether the prototype treatment is safe and effective.