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Neurology and Neurosurgery

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The Spinal Fusion Laboratory

Addressing a Common Challenge

spinal fusion surgery

Fusion surgery can treat several problems with the spine, including those arising from trauma, inborn deformity, degenerative disease, infection and tumors.

But 5% to 35% of these procedures fail, even when using the “gold standard” treatment of grafting bone from the patient’s own iliac crest (the top part of the hipbone).

Fusion failure, otherwise known as pseudoarthrosis, is a major cause of failed back surgery syndrome and results in significant pain and disability, increasing the need for more procedures and driving up health care costs.

Advancing Techniques, Improving Results

The ultimate goal of the Johns Hopkins Spinal Fusion Laboratory is to eliminate pseudoarthrosis by using animal models to study various strategies to improve spinal fusion outcomes, including:

  • Delivery of various growth factors and biological agents
  • Stem cell therapies
  • Tissue engineering approaches
Spinal Fusion Team

Spinal fusion in our animal models is assessed using a combination of complementary techniques incorporating manual palpitation, X-ray and computed tomography (CT) imaging, histology and biomechanical testing.

Our laboratory is also interested in problems regarding overall spine health. In particular, we investigate therapies to improve vertebral bone quality in patients with conditions such as osteoporosis that may require future spinal fusion procedures.

We are developing an animal model to explore the effects of localized radiation therapy on spinal structure and stability, and testing potential therapies for the prevention of vertebral compression fractures in spinal oncology patients.

View our current research projects.

#TomorrowsDiscoveries: Spinal Fusion Surgeries

Dr. Timothy Witham and his team of researchers are investigating spinal fusion surgery outcomes. Their goal is to eliminate fusion failure, which occurs when the bone and the spine do not grow properly and fuse together.


Our Research Team




Yike Jin

Yike Jin, M.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Alexander Perdomo-Pantoja, M.D.

Medical Students

Ethan Cottrill