By: 3 January 2023
Surgeon in focus with Rory Murphy

Rory Murphy, MD, is a neurosurgeon in the Department of Neurosurgery at Barrow Neurological Institute, Arizona, USA.

Rory focuses on complex cranial and spinal pathologies, including tumors, spinal cord compression, and peripheral nerve surgery. Dr Murphy is active in translational cervical spinal cord injury research and  a member of cervical spine research society. He is the site principal investigator for the Department of Defense Cervical Spinal Cord Injury Trial and previously served as a PI for the Missouri Spinal Cord Injury Research Program, and is co-founder of Intelligent Implants. 


SSN: What drove you to choose surgery as a career – and neurosurgery in particular? 

RM: From a young age, I became interested in helping people regain movement after a neurological injury. I scheduled neurology, orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery rotations to see what was the best option to achieve this. During a neurosurgery rotation at Medizinische Hochschule Hannover (MHH), I came to love neurosurgery and its practice and decided it was the path for me. 


SSN: It is clear that the healthcare industry has been greatly impacted by the pandemic; what has been the greatest impact for you within the spinal surgery industry? 

RM: As an industry as a whole, we had to become flexible, step outside of the norm, to integrate new technologies, methods, etc., to treat patients. The rapid adoption of Telehealth and new online decision support technologies to help people access appropriate care quicker was pivotal for patient care during the pandemic. 


SSN: What’s the best part of your job? 

RM: Achieving a patient’s goals and objectives through surgery – ultimately putting them on a road to recovery 


SSN: … and the worst? 

RM: When we do not possess the capability to help a person. Often the surgical options that we have cannot help. Hopefully, listening and acknowledging a person’s challenge helps. 


SSN: What has been the highlight of your career so far? 

RM: Joining, building and being part of excellent teams, and helping people in the clinic and operating room and developing new treatment options. 


SSN: Are you currently involved in any research or work with emerging technologies? 

RM: Yes.


SSN: Please can you tell us more about the research and what it could mean to patient experience and outcomes? 

RM: Working closely with the team at Intelligent Implants, we have developed a device that incorporates the latest technology from neurostimulation with application to orthopaedic implants. 

 Currently, there is an alarming rate of non-fusion after spinal fusion surgery. We realised that patients needed a solution. 

The SmartFuse system is a wirelessly enabled, active implant technology platform that uses an array of electrodes to stimulate, control, and monitor bone growth. The system is comprised of an implant that delivers local electrical stimulation to accelerate bone growth, an external “wearable” to wirelessly power and communicate with the implant, and a cloud-based physician portal and patient app. 

In a way, this is like the local drug delivery version of electrical bone growth stimulators.  By doing the stimulation locally and with an array of electrodes, we can control the stimulation precisely. These same electrodes are then used to measure the new bone growth and enables us to detect the new bone and spatially resolve where the new bone is growing.   


SSN: Can you tell us more about the emerging electrotherapeutic technology market? 

RM: There are many factors contributing to the escalating market growth for electrotherapeutics; specifically, the rise in the cases of spinal injuries among the population, rise in the prevalence of chronic conditions, increase in the geriatric population, and rise in the regulatory approvals from key players are the major factors driving the electrotherapy market. Moreover, the rise in technological advancements and modernisation in  healthcare  devices and increased demand from emerging economies will further create new opportunities for the electrotherapy market. 


SSN: As co-founder of Intelligent Implants, how is the company helping to improve the electrotherapeutic technology market within spinal procedures? 

RM: There is an urgent need for more effective treatments for patients suffering from degenerative disc disease. Specifically in spinal fusion surgeries, incidents of non-union – when the bones of the spine fail to fuse correctly – are high risk and can severely impact patients’ quality of life.  

One of the most expensive and invasive medical procedures, spinal fusion surgery is the only option for a large population of patients suffering from chronic back pain. After many decades of progress, roughly 10-20 percent of the 1.5 million worldwide annual spinal fusion surgeries still fail (with even higher rates cited in high-risk patients), leading to devastating complications and significant healthcare waste. A failed fusion impacts the patient, payer, and hospitals through the continued poor quality of life, radiation overexposure, expensive revision surgeries with poor outcomes, and lengthy hospital stays.


SSN: How can the device reduce healing times, engage patients and surgeons and improve outcomes? 

RM: The SmartFuse technology has the ability to 3D print new bone in situ, directly where it is needed. Additionally, with the capability to monitor that growth and communicate the progress to the clinician in real-time – a first-of-a-kind orthopaedic therapeutic system enabling the surgeon to dynamically adjust the therapy, as needed, throughout the duration of the healing. 


SSN: Are you planning to attend any orthopaedic or spinal events in the next year? 

RM: Yes the Cervical Spine Research Society and Congress of Neurosurgery meetings.  


SSN: If you weren’t a neurosurgeon what would you be? 

RM: An engineer.  


SSN: What would you tell your 21-year-old self? 

RM: With time and a great team, anything is possible. 


SSN: If you were Health Minister for the day what changes would you implement? 

RM: Concentrate on prevention and avoiding health challenges, empower people to manage their conditions with better knowledge.  


SSN: Away from the clinic and operating theatre – what do you do to relax? 

RM: Bringing my daughter to the excellent Arizona Science Center. They have exhibitions on how to become a cardiac surgeon , orthopaedic surgeon and of course my favourite – how to become a neurosurgeon. For exercise  I enjoy trail running, cycling and  swimming.  


SSN: How do you think the future looks in the field of neurosurgery and spinal surgery and what are your predictions for 2023 and the next decade? 

RM: Constant movement towards value-based care, increased advances in minimally invasive techniques, and connected health monitoring objective recovery and outcomes. 

 With regard to surgical options, I am excited about the new motion preservation options that are being  developed and  adopted.