Monday, December 31, 2012

Focus on Unusual Illnesses? How Medicine Actually Helps

December 28, 2012

Surgery establishes penile sensation in men with spina bifida

By Chris Mc Cann
A procedure to establish feeling in the penis for men with spina bifida was performed for the first time in the United States in Seattle.
Anthony “Tony” Avellino, UW professor of neurological surgery, and Thomas Lendvay, a UW associate professor of pediatric urology who practices at Seattle Children’s Hospital, led the surgical team.
“This is truly an innovative procedure for either spina bifida patients or patients with lower-level spinal-cord injury who have sensation in the groin but not the penis,” said Avellino.
Lendvay noted that, “Based on the positive results of the first two patients, this new procedure has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life in our spina bifida adult and adolescent patients.”
Spina bifida can take several forms. This illustration shows a type in which the spinal cord protrudes from the infant’s back.
People with spinal bifida were born with an incomplete closure of their backbone, often because the neural tube didn’t form correctly during early embryonic development. Even when the spine is surgically closed after birth, the spinal cord in the affected section may not work properly in conducting nerve impulses. The patient may have a combination of nerve function and loss. They may have paralysis or numbness in only some parts of their body, for example.
The new operation is known as TOMAX (TO MAX-imize sensation, sexuality and quality of life). The procedure entails transferring a branch of the nerve supplying sensation from the thigh skin to the main skin sensation nerve to the penis. The successful completion of the procedure allows men with spinal cord impairment to feel sensation in a previously insensitive penis and improve sexual health.
Max Overgoor from the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands had performed 18 successful operations when David Shurtleff, UW professor of pediatrics, invited him to Seattle to observe the first U.S. operation of this nature.

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My opinion:
This certainly isn't something I knew existed and, as such, I would never have known that a number of doctors are working on treating it.  However, though the illness might seem odd or rare (it occurs in 7 out of 10,000 people), I believe that it is important that this treatment is now available.  For example, spinal bifida primarily affects sensation, but it also steals an important aspect of life from men - the ability to reproduce.  I'm glad that there are doctors who are willing to work on lesser known and/or bizarre diseases.  Though their work might not reach a great number of people, it is likely that their combined work does.  I hope it remains financially possible to research such illnesses in the future.

1 comment:

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