Eleven winners of the AO Spine 2019 Discovery and Innovation Awards join the AO Spine Knowledge Forums

AO Spine is proud to present the winners of the AO Spine 2019 Discovery and Innovation Award and their winning study proposals.

27 June 2019

AOSpine Research Funding

Congratulations to (in alphabetical order):

Joseph Baker, New Zealand, "Principal component analysis of the pelvis—anatomic contributors to the pelvic incidence and application to surgical planning"

Carla Cunha, Portugal, "McDISC Macrophage therapy for intervertebral disc herniation" 

Benjamin Davies, UK, "Investigating the biological basis for disability in degenerative cervical myelopathy: can PET-MRI directly quantify myelination in vivo?"

Martin Holas, Slovakia, "Does erector spinae plane block decrease amount of analgesia need-ed after mini-invasive posterior transpedicular stabilization in patient with vertebral body fracture. Are there any per or postoperative complications?"

Ankit I. Mehta, USA, "Determining Efficacy and Toxicity of Magnetically Guided Nanoparticles for Intramedullary Spinal Tumors"

Tim O’Connor, USA, "Tension Parameters in Junctional Tethers for Proximal Junctional Kyphosis"

Ryan O’Hare Doig, Australia, "Modulation of inflammatory responses using neural crest derived dental pulp stem cells following acute spinal cord injury"

Hanqiang Ouyang, China, "Exploration and clinical application of new indicators for prognosis evaluation of solitary plasmacytoma of bone"

Marco Palanca, Italy, "Stabilize or Not to Stabilize: biomechanics-based guidelines in case of indeterminate SINS"

Kyle Sheldrick, Australia, "Decay Variance: A Novel MRI Tool for Quantifying Intervertebral Disc Degeneration in Low Back Pain"

Arun Kumar Viswanadha, India, "Do prophylactic antibiotics reach the operative site adequately? – A quantitative analysis of serum and wound concentrations of systemic and local prophylactic antibiotics in spine surgery"

The eleven winning young scientists and their study proposals were selected out of 83 received applications in a blinded review process. The initiative encourages young AO Spine members to perform high-quality, clinically-relevant spine research and to get involved.

The winners have been invited as Associate Members to the AO Spine Knowledge Forum (KF) which relates to their study's pathology. Most of them will participate in their first KF meeting in Toronto, Canada, during the Global Spine Congress (GSC) in May 2019, and we expect to see results presented at next year's GSC in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

AO Spine Knowledge Forum Tumor welcomes Marco Palanca, Ankit I. Mehta, and Hanqiang Ouyang

Marco Palanca, Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna, Bologna, Italy 

Stabilize or Not to Stabilize: biomechanics-based guidelines in case of indeterminate SINS

Palanca's study aims to define how to identify spine metastases cases that need stabilization, in cases specifically classified as “indeterminate” by the Spinal lnstability Neoplastic Score (SINS). "For many cancer types, there is growing expectation of survival," Palanca explains. "For these patients, the focus is their quality of life. The management of complications becomes extremely important, among them the correct management of vertebral metastases with respect to pain and risk of fracture."

Palanca says, receiving the award "is another brick in the bridge between engineering and clinical environments". While this is an opportunity to learn from the best spinal surgeons in the world, it also allows him to share his views with the spine community.


Ankit I. Mehta, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA 

Determining Efficacy and Toxicity of Magnetically Guided Nanoparticles for Intramedullary Spinal Tumors

Ankit I. Mehta says intramedullary spinal cord tumor management has been a significant clinical challenge to the spinal oncology community, primarily, due to difficulty of drug delivery, invasive nature of tumors, and failure of radiation therapy. "Our lab has developed a novel platform where chemotherapeutic magnetic nanoparticles are localized to an intramedullary spinal cord tumor in an in vivo rat model."

Mehta's proposal aims to determine both the efficacy and toxicity of this platform in comparison to other modes of chemotherapeutic delivery. He thanks AO Spine for their support in the endeavor and hopes the platform will induce an increased amount of tumor cell death and reduce both central nervous system and systemic toxicity.


Hanqiang Ouyang, Orthopedic Department, Peking University Third Hospital, Beijing, China

Exploration and clinical application of new indicators for prognosis evaluation of solitary plasmacytoma of bone

Hanqiang Ouyang was overjoyed to hear of the award and hopes the KF membership will help him create contacts to spinal tumor specialist all over the world. Ouyang's project is on the Solitary Plasmacytoma of Bone (SPB), which is a single isolated plasma cell tumor. "About two-thirds of patients with SPB eventually progress to Multiple Myeloma (MM)," Ouyang says. "We speculate that some cases of SPB may essentially involve relatively inert malignant tumors, which are different from those observed in MM. Other cases of SPB are solitary early manifestations of MM."

"The ability to predict if SPB patients will progress to MM earlier in the single isolated stage would provide guidance for early diagnosis, rational treatment, and prognosis assessment on the genomics level," Ouyang states, hoping his findings will support personalized precision medicine for SPB patients in the future.


AO Spine Knowledge Forum Deformity welcomes Joseph Baker and Tim O'Connor

Joseph Baker, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, New Zealand

Principal component analysis of the pelvis – anatomic contributors to the pelvic incidence and application to surgical planning

Joe Baker is delighted to receive support from AO Spine and hopes this will develop into future partnerships. "It is an exciting time for our unit as we try to grow the academic program in Waikato Hospital," Baker says.

Baker's study will explore the relationship of the pelvic and spinal geometry and increase the ability to individualize planning in spinal surgery. "I am looking forward to being involved in the AO Spine Knowledge Forum and hope to develop relationships with others."


Tim O’Connor, University at Buffalo Neurosurgery, Buffalo, NY, USA

Tension Parameters in Junctional Tethers for Proximal Junctional Kyphosis (PJK)

Tim O'Connor and his project team look forward to using the award to push the envelope and develop new tools to make a lasting impact on patient care. "It’s an honor for us, and we were excited and humbled when we first received the acceptance letter. I look forward to contributing to the AO Spine Knowledge Forum and collaborating with leaders in our field."

The objective of O'Connor's study is to determine optimal tension parameters in junctional tethers, with the goal of using this knowledge to develop a better tether device in the future. Tethering devices have been shown to significantly decrease the occurrence of PJK following multilevel posterior spinal fusion to correct adult spinal deformity. Currently, there are no studies evaluating the optimal tension parameters when to use tethers to reduce PJK.


AO Spine Knowledge Forum SCI welcomes Benjamin Davies and Ryan O'Hare Doig

Benjamin Davies, Division of Neurosurgery, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK 

Investigating the biological basis for disability in degenerative cervical myelopathy: can PET-MRI directly quantify myelination in vivo?

Benjamin Davies is delighted to be given this opportunity by AO Spine. "I think myelopathy is a major unmet research need and the opportunity to be amongst the pioneers in this field, on the AO Spine KF SCI, is an honor."

Davies says the care and research of degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) is hindered by our current assessments. His study will look at the feasibility of a PET radioligand to directly image the disease process in the spinal cord. Such a technique could help refine diagnostic imaging and offer a signal to test regenerative therapies.


Ryan O'Hare Doig, Neil Sachse Centre for Spinal Cord Research, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, SA, Australia

Modulation of inflammatory responses using neural crest derived dental pulp stem cells following acute spinal cord injury

Ryan O'Hare Doig believes stem cell-based transplantation therapy holds great promise for a multi-faceted therapeutic approach to spinal cord injury, but bench-to-bedside translation is limited by our understanding of stem cell transplants behavior in the non-conducive environment of the spinal cord. "During the acute phase of injury, infiltrating inflammatory cells release a number of mediators which likely play a pivotal in stem cell survival. Therefore, neuroinflammation has a clear role in the future of regenerative medicine."

With AO Spine's support, O'Hare Doig proposes an idea of ‘priming’ or, pre-exposing stem cells to autologous inflammatory cells of the injured patient ex vivo, prior to re-engraftment in vivo. "We believe this will promote greater stem cell survival, proliferation and differentiation, in turn driving significant neurological recovery."


AO Spine Knowledge Forum Trauma welcomes Martin Holas

Martin Holas, Department of Trauma Surgery, Teaching Hospital F. D. Roosevelt Banská Bystrica, Banská Bystrica, Slovakia

Does erector spinae plane block decrease amount of analgesia needed after mini-invasive posterior transpedicular stabilization in patients with vertebral body fracture. Are there any pre- or postoperative complications?

Martin Holas' study aims to confirm or refuse efficiency of Erector Spinae Plane (ESP) block during mini-invasive posterior transpedicular stabilization. "In the early hours after surgery, these operations are accompanied with high dosage of analgesics to treat pain. We hypothesis that ESP block will reduce the dosage of analgesics. If confirmed, this would help improve patient care without raising the complication rate."

Holas expects his exposure to the AO Spine Knowledge Forum Trauma will bring him new experiences, new knowledge, and new professional contacts. " It will also allow me to do my part in growing the knowledge."


Knowledge Forum Degenerative welcomes Arun Kumar Viswanadha, Kyle Sheldrick, and Carla Cunha

Arun Kumar Viswanadha, Mallika Spine Centre, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India

Do prophylactic antibiotics reach the operative site adequately? – A quantitative analysis of serum and wound concentrations of systemic and local prophylactic antibiotics in spine surgery

Arun Kumar Viswanadha is happy to receive funding for his project and to have an opportunity to share knowledge. "I am looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at this early stage of my career. I hope this will tremendously transform my research career."

Arun Kumar's study is designed to find which antibiotic—prophylactic systemic or the intra-wound vancomycin—lasts longer at adequate concentrations in the surgical wound and contributes more to preventing infection. "Prophylactic systemic antibiotic administration before spine surgery has been a standard protocol across the globe. Despite preoperative systemic antibiotic administration, the infection rates following spine surgery remains significant," Arun explains.


Kyle Sheldrick, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Kogarah, NSW, Australia

Decay Variance: A Novel MRI Tool for Quantifying Intervertebral Disc Degeneration in Low Back Pain

Kyle Sheldrick says the AO Spine DIA grant is filling a big gap in funding schemes—his biggest barrier was always the leap from animals to humans. "We simply cannot get government grants for human work without preliminary human data, and the AO Spine grant will hopefully let us generate the first-in-human data."

The study will act as proof of concept to show feasibility of their technique to assess back pain. "If the results are positive, this will allow us to leverage this seed funding into large government grants, using our technique for long term prognostication, treatment selection, and disease classification in large cohorts."



Carla Cunha, i3S – Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde, Porto, Portugal

Macrophage therapy for intervertebral disc herniation (McDISC)

Carla Cunha is happy about the award, which will allow her team at i3S to validate an in vivo proof of principle of intervertebral disc hernia regression. "McDISC is proposed as a clinically relevant immunomodulatory therapy that aims at boosting the physiological mechanisms of hernia spontaneous regression," Cunha says, and hopes this will result in a significant advance in spine care.

More information

Read more about the AO Spine 2019 Discovery and Innovation Award

Read more about AO Spine Research



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