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Spine Studies Fuel Millions in Revenue, and Controversy

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, July 14, 2011

Industry-sponsored research that paid millions of dollars for some physicians touting a bone growth product used in spinal fusion surgery has left other doctors flabbergasted. Their diagnosis: trouble.

Eugene J. Carragee, MD, editor-in-chief of The Spine Journal was one of those flummoxed by the resultant studies that he and his co-editors vehemently assert failed to mention potential problems with the product.

As Carragee notes, spine care involves a small circle of physicians. He's had dinner with some of the physicians he is now sharply criticizing and has attended conferences with them. The circle is now broken.

"This is not a big community," Carragee told HealthLeaders Media. "I know all of them by sight, and probably [have]had dinner with them. They are charming people, great dinner companions, with a lot of energy and good surgical skills, but that's not what we are talking about here."

Carragee, who won a Purple Heart for his military service in Iraq, acknowledges he's not one to shy away from controversy. He's now involved in one that's not going to go away soon.

An orthopedic surgeon with the Stanford University School of Medicine, Carragee and a team of experts wrote a scathing analysis last month in The Spine Journal debunking reports written by physicians who made millions of dollars from a device manufacturer that found no complications with its bone growth product.

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