Article by: Natliia Patrikieieva
Oleksiy Nekhlopochyn studied at the Luhansk State University of Medicine, and he completed his internship in Donetsk. Afterward, he entered the division of neurosurgery, in which he specialized in pathologies of the spine and brain, and from then on he began to practice surgery on the spine.
After his studies, he practiced surgery in the Luhansk Oblast Clinical Hospital. There he began to work on his invention – an artificial implant which can improve treatment of trauma in the neck and upper spine.
Nekhlopochyn’s father and grandfather were also neurosurgeons, therefore his choice of profession had always been clear. From childhood on, his house was filled with discussions of medical topics, and these always fascinated Oleksiy.
Where did the idea for the invention come from?
Oleksiy Nekhlopochyn’s office is located in the treatment center of the Spinal and Cerebral Pathology Department of the Institute of Neurosurgery. The walls are freshly painted, the furniture is new, a model of the human spine rests on the window-sill, and on the shelves lays his new award for his invention, on which the doctor worked for five years.
From the drawers of his work-desk Olesksiy withdraws a small metal box. Inside it is the small titanium device which can improve the treatment of trauma in the neck and upper spine.
This part of the spine is the most easily damaged. The neck has weak muscles which are pressed beneath a critical load, and the vertebrae of the neck are small and fragile.
During the operation, the injured vertebrae are removed and the titanium device is implanted in their place. The device’s end binds to the entire bone, the length of the prosthesis is adjusted, and afterward, the cavity is filled with special material. This allows the fusion of the vertebrae to the prosthesis in the future and excludes the possibility of complications developing later on.
“The idea for the creation of the implant arose on its own. When I began to practice surgery, I noted that even a technically ideal operation could give theoretically superior results which did not always follow fully from treatment,” Oleksiy remarks.
The neurosurgeon devoted his attention to post-operation complications such as cracks forming in prosthetics or the neck-bones deforming, causing enduring pain. Oleksiy Nekhlopochyn wanted to avoid all these setbacks.
Unique across the globe
Nekhlopochyn’s invention is unique not just to Ukraine, but to the whole world. The World Intellectual Property Organization confirmed that the proposed design achieves the highest level of innovation.
The prosthetic remains permanently in the body of the patient, but the patient can still undergo Magnetic-Resonance Imaging (MRI) because titanium does not interfere with that process.
On its own functional, technical and economic parameters Nekhlopochyn’s design surpasses available models developed across the world.
“This design is readied very simply. It has a minimal number of component parts, and at the same time, it is quite functional. In 2014 its cost stood at about 800 Hryvnia [$30.5 – ed.]. Authors of research papers on the neck and upper-spine trauma always spoke about problems with telescoping designs, namely a small cavity that interfered with the fusion of the vertebrae. We solved this problem,” the neurosurgeon explains.
During development, Oleksiy consulted with his father, who helped him improve the device.
“Throughout development, we relied not only on our own experience, but we also consulted with other specialists in this field throughout Ukraine. We cooperated with the Institute of Neurosurgery and the Institute of Spinal Pathology. This, in our opinion, allowed the creation of a device which best met the desires of practicing surgeons,” Nekhlopochyn says.
The prototype itself was readied at a special machine-lab in the construction bureau of the Institute of Spinal Pathology in Kharkiv.
Licenses for widespread use are costly
Nekhlopochyn’s device is functionally ready for use. However, for general use, it first requires special licenses and permissions the costs of which are substantial.
“As a rule, these questions are handled by companies which manufacture the devices. Accordingly, to acquire a license, one must find a person or a firm which is interested in mass-production. To pay such a large amount for the production of only two or three implants is not realistic,” the surgeon says.
After winning the award for his invention, interest in Oleksiy Nekhlopochyn’s device rose – periodically the neurosurgeon receives calls from those interested in his invention. But he has not yet reached any agreements.
“Now I can only wait. Maybe, someone will take interest in this device or some state program will support domestic inventions, but right now surgeons predominantly use foreign implants. If no partners are found, this idea will remain purely a theory,” the surgeon says.
How was research done?
Oleksiy Nekhlopochyn lived in Luhansk until 2017. He finished work on his device in 2013.
After the development of the implant, the ethics committee of Luhansk University allowed a series of clinical trials for research purposes on a group of patients. With their agreement, Nekhlopochyn implanted his device into patients with injuries.
Soon the war began, and Oleksiy remained in [occupied] Luhansk to maintain observation of his patients. The majority of them did not leave Luhansk for government-controlled territory.
“To leave at that moment – that meant to abandon all my research and my patients. To implant the device without special certification is not allowed. Therefore, if I left Luhansk, the clinical research would generally have come to an end,” the surgeon explains.
All patients with Nekhlopochyn’s implant feel well, and the doctor still maintains contact with them. He says that multi-year studies with patients foster friendly relations.
“Operations cause some minor stress”
Relocating to Kyiv, Nekhlopochyn together with his family began to rent an apartment, even though, the neurosurgeon remarks, this is not easy with a salary of only 5500 Hryvnia [$210 – ed.].
Oleksiy’s wife is also from Luhansk, and she too is a doctor, but she works at a pharmacological company.
Nekhlopochyn dreams that his invention will become widely-used by doctors, and he himself plans to take a medical internship beyond Ukraine’s borders to improve his skills in neurosurgery. He says that perfection in surgery does not exist.
Each month Oleksiy performs between ten and fifteen operations, but he remarks that the Institute of Neurosurgery has much to improve. Thanks to better equipment the majority of operations are concluded much more quickly than they had been in Luhansk.
Nevertheless, operations at the Institute usually go beyond schedule, and sometimes Nekhlopochyn does not return home until late at night. He finishes research which can be done outside the hospital (writing up results, working with statistics) at his home after the work-day ends.
Going into an operation, Nekhlopochyn says, he usually feels calm.
“Yes, I worry a little, but I can’t say that I’m in a panic. Maybe each operation causes some minor stress. But more often, I feel the excitement – excitement to work with the maximum quality and speed,” the neurosurgeon relates.
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