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Testing an Implantable Intraspinal Drug Delivery Device in the Ewe
  1. Dennis W. Coombs, M.D.,
  2. Bonnie B. Twitchell, M.L.T.,
  3. Raymond W. Colburn, B.S. and
  4. Joyce A. Deleo, Ph.D.
  1. From the Department of Anesthesiology, Institute for Spinal Drugs and Neurotoxicology, Anesthesia Research Laboratory, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire.
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to D. W. Coombs, M.D., Department of Anesthesiology, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, One Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, NH 03756.


Objective. The authors report the use of multiple implanted intraspinal port and catheter systems per test animal to study the in vivo functional characteristics and reliability of a new implantable spinal drug delivery port system.

Methods. Four ewes were each implanted with two epidural and one subarachnoid silicone elastomer catheters at the lumbar level. Each catheter was connected in series to one of three Therex filtered spinal delivery ports implanted subcutaneously in a similar grid pattern in each ewe to facilitate percutaneous identification. Saline (2 ml) was injected 3 times weekly in each port. The ease of injection and behavioral responses were recorded for 207-213 days of implantation until sacrifice/necropsy.

Results. All ports functioned reliably during the study. However, injection through two of the four subarachnoid catheters resulted in behavioral withdrawal responses intermittently. This behavioral pattern was much less common after epidural port injections. All four subarachnoid and four of eight epidural port and catheter systems were tested with local anesthetic just before sacrifice. Motor block was observed in three of four subarachnoid and three of four epidural port and catheter systems tested. Integrity of the other four epidural ports was tested by injection of methylene blue at sacrifice. This dye did not distribute in the epidural space in one of the latter four epidural ports (not local anesthetic tested) because of a concentric fibrotic reaction about the catheter. Similar fibrotic reactions surrounded the catheters that failed a functional test with local anesthetic.

Conclusions. The implantable intraspinal port system tested functions reliably under repetitive percutaneous access. However, filtering such ports, though desirable to prevent entry of debris into the spinal canal, did not eliminate pericatheter chronic subarachnoid and epidural reaction. The number of test animals required to test 12 ports chronically was reduced by two-thirds without undue trauma to the individual test subject. Chronic percutaneous injection of an implanted subarachnoid system is feasible but may be associated with behavioral effects similar to that seen with chronic epidural systems. Fibrosis around chronic silicone catheters limited functional utility in one-fourth of the implanted test systems. Further study of the potential reactivity of chronic epidural and subarachnoid catheters is indicated.

  • Subarachnoid
  • epidural
  • implantable device
  • implantable port
  • spinal opioids.

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  • Sponsored in part by a grant from the Therex Corporation, Walpole, Massachusetts.