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Cutting-edge medicine

Doctor treats patients’ spines with the latest techniques

March 18, 2012
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - Since starting work in the area last summer, Dr. Jian Shen has done more than 200 spinal surgeries.

Shen - who does procedures at Nathan Littauer Hospital and St. Mary's Healthcare - said when he came to the area, he noted how he wanted to bring cutting-edge spine care from the big academic centers to the community.

"There are lots of patients that need spine surgery," he said.

Article Photos

Photo submitted
Dr. Jian?Shen, a member of Mohawk Valley Orthopedics who does work at Nathan Littauer Hospital in?Gloversville and St.?Mary’s Healthcare in?Amsterdam, is shown in this undated photo.

Shen was performing a new procedure - for both him and the area - on Feb. 29 at Littauer: an endoscopic microdiscectomy.

The surgery is just the latest procedure in a field Shen knows quite well: minimally invasive spinal surgery. He is the only doctor in the area listed on the Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery website -

Compared to traditional open spine surgery, minimally invasive spine surgery involves the use of cutting-edge technology to treat a spinal condition "without causing undue injury to the surrounding soft tissue," the website said.

Christian Alderucci - director of clinical education for Joimax, a company based in Irvine, Calif. - was at the hospital Feb. 29 to observe Shen as he performed the new procedure, to make sure he felt comfortable using the company's equipment.

"[Minimally invasive,] that term has been used a lot, even misused," he said. "This is a true minimally invasive, true endoscopic procedure."

The procedure Shen was doing Feb. 29 involved making a small incision in a patient's side, then using an endoscope to slide a tiny camera and tools into the body to perform the procedure on the spine to remove the herniated portions of the disc.

Alderucci noted surgery on herniated discs used to involve making a larger incision in the center of the back, then cutting through the ligaments and muscles that were in the way.

"Now we can just go in through the person's side with an endoscope," he said.

Shen said in general, one of the chief advantages of minimally invasive spinal surgery for patients is that recovery time is greatly reduced.

According to the SMISS website, minimally invasive spinal surgery decreases the length of a hospital stay by one half, compared to its traditional counterpart.

According to the website, other advantages to using MISS are:

Less post-operative pain.

Reduced blood loss.

Less soft tissue damage.

Smaller surgical incisions.

Less scarring.

Improved function.

Shen said for the surgeon, visibility can be better because they are not operating in a pool of blood. Infection rates tend to be lower for MIS surgeries compared to traditional methods, he said.

Alderucci said for orthopedic surgeons such as Shen, the learning curve can be very easy. They are used to using endoscopes for other procedures.

"[Shen] really doesn't need me here anymore," he said with a laugh.

Shen - a member of Mohawk Valley Orthopedics - earned a PhD in basic science research in Pharmacology. He then finished his medical school education at Cornell University Medical College in New York City. After a surgical internship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., he completed an orthopedic surgery residency at Wake Forest University Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. Shen then went on to finish a spine surgery fellowship from 2010 to 2011 at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, before coming to the area.

Shen said he is proud to bring new techniques, including minimally invasive spinal surgery to the area.

"It is an underserved area," he said.



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