Pedicle screw and rod instrumentation based on titanium can produce satisfying strength and stiffness for spinal fusion. However, excessive stiffness produced by titanium rods may cause stress shielding. Thus, polyetheretherketone (PEEK) rods with a low modulus of elasticity were introduced as substitutes for titanium rods. The purpose of this paper is to compare the effectiveness of PEEK rods versus titanium alloy rods in anterior spinal fusion with a new sheep model.
Sheep models of anterior-posterior cervical fusion were innovatively adopted in our study. Twenty-four sheep were randomly divided into a control group and a treatment group that received anterior-posterior cervical fixation with titanium rods or PEEK rods, respectively. Then, surgical segments were harvested and assessed by X-ray, micro-CT and histological examination to evaluate the efficiency of bone fusion.
No complications related to fixation were found during the research process. The results of the X-ray showed a stronger spinal fusion in the PEEK rod groups than in the titanium rod group at 12 weeks postoperatively, and both groups underwent bone fusion at 24 weeks postoperatively. The results of micro-CT showed that fixation with PEEK rods achieved better bone ingrowth at an early postoperative stage (12 weeks) compared to fixation with titanium rods (bone volume fraction (BVF): 20.26 ± 4.36% vs 14.48 ± 3.49%, p < 0.05). The same trend was detected in the histological analysis, where the mineralized bone fraction in the experiment group (21.01 ± 3.48%) was significantly higher than that in the control group (16.73 ± 2.95%). In addition, better osseointegration was found in the experiment group at the early postoperative stage at 12 weeks (bone apposition (BA): 16.22 ± 3.24% vs 11.67 ± 3.63%, p < 0.05). However, there were no significant differences at 24 weeks postoperatively.
PEEK rods can be used safely in a sheep model of anterior-posterior cervical fixation. Compared to traditional titanium rods, earlier and more evident bone fusion was found in the PEEK rods group. These slides can be retrieved under Electronic Supplementary Material.