Aug 19 - Surgeons at the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco are using magnets to reshape the breastbones of children who suffer from Sunken Chest Syndrome. The technique is undergoing phase 3 clinical trials, but the doctors hope to prove that long term magnetic force is as effective and less painful than conventional surgery. Ben Gruber reports.
Jose Rengal just turned 14. By the time he is 16, he hopes to be able to breathe better and play football with his friends. Jose suffers from Pectus Excavatum, or Sunken Chest Syndrome, a common congenital deformity of the chest wall. Jose's ribs are growing slower than the cartilage that connects them to his breast bone... pushing the breast bone inward. It's a condition he has lived with his entire life. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JOSE LUIS RANGEL, TRIAL PARTICIPANT, SAYING: "I don't know, I have been kind of self conscious about it....I don't like having my shirt off. I like keeping it on as much as I can." Michael Harrison is a paediatric surgeon who treats kids with Pectus. He says that the conventional approach to correcting the deformity is painful and debilitating. It involves major surgery where doctors reshape the breast bone and insert a metal bar to keep it in place. Harrison has been performing the procedure for more than 35 years and while it's effective, he and his colleague, Shinjiro Hirose, have been exploring alternatives that will correct the problem without the post-operative pain that comes with surgery. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL HARRISON, PAEDIATRIC SURGEON, SAYING: "If you could, instead of moving the thing this far in one big horrible operation, if you could, move it a tiny bit frequently for over a long period of time. You could achieve the same thing but without the agony and without the risk of that big operation." And so the team came up with the idea of using magnets. Powerful magnets. One placed on the breast bone and the other in a brace worn by the patient. The idea is that magnetic force will slowly pull the chest wall out and correct the deformity. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SHINJIRO HIROSE, PAEDIATRIC SURGEON, SAYING: "Our thinking for this procedure was instead of using big forces to either remove the cartilage or push the breast bone out immediately, taking a cue from our dental colleagues where they use braces to move teeth slowly over time. We thought that low forces on the breast bone over time could potentially bring it outward." After initial studies, the team got approval for an FDA sponsored clinical trial. Jose is one of their first patients. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MISSY TORRES, JOSE'S MOM, SAYING: "We just kind of look at it like he is our little Iron Man, you know. Iron Man has a magnet in his chest so that is what we use to make it humorous." Jose's mom Missy Torres says they can joke about it now. She says any reservations she had early on have been replaced by optimism about Jose's future. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MISSY TORRES, JOSE'S MOM, SAYING: "I am looking forward to him being able to take a full breath because that has been his complaint for the last two years is that he can't take a full breath. And after today of hearing how self conscious he was about it, it's going to build his self confidence more; I know it is going to build his confidence more." Jose will have the magnet in his chest for the next two years. He says looking forward to the day it can come out. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JOSE LUIS RANGEL, TRIAL PARTICIPANT, SAYING: "We are hoping for my chest to be perfect." Michael Harrison hopes Jose's chest will be perfect as well. For him it would mean a less invasive, less painful option for kids like Jose in the future.