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How an NHL player inspired a better spinal implant design 

Fall 2023 Velocity Pitch Competition winner’s flexible spinal implant shows promise

A shared interest in sports inspired a University of Waterloo professor and undergraduate student to design a new spinal implant that could help improve neck mobility and mitigate surgical complications.  

“Being big hockey fans, we were both interested in a news story about NHL player Jack Eichel, who was in a battle with his team to get a spinal disc replacement,” said Jonah Leinwand, co-founder of Pliantech, and biomedical engineering undergraduate student in University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Engineering. “From there, the wheels for Pliantech started turning, and now this has become full-time work for me.”  

L-R Jonah Leinwand and Dr. Stewart McLachlin

The artificial disc replacement design that Leinwand and Pliantech’s other co-founder – Dr. Stewart McLachlin, an assistant professor in mechanical and mechatronics engineering – invented was feted by judges as one of the winners of the Fall 2023 Velocity Pitch Competition last month.

As the intricate anatomy of the spine makes artificial disc replacement surgeries a difficult biomechanical problem, they need to strike a balance between spinal flexibility and stability. In the case of injury, disease or degeneration with aging, limitations of existing artificial discs can lead to serious post-operative complications that could hinder neck mobility. 

“We’ve invented a new mechanical design concept for an artificial disc replacement used in the cervical spine (neck) to help patients recapture that mobility and try and prevent further surgeries and other complications,” said Leinwand. “Our unique device sits between two vertebrae and moves as a single unit, similar to the spine’s natural disc.”

Read the full story on Waterloo News.