Get to Know: Neurosurgeon Chun-Po Yen, MD

At a Glance                                         

  • Chun-Po Yen, MD, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery
  • Specialty: Degenerative spine disease and spine deformity, including kyphosis and scoliosis
  • Fellowships:
    Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery, University of South Florida
    Radiosurgery, Neuro-oncology, University of Virginia
  • Residencies:
    Neurosurgery, University of Virginia
    Surgery and Neurosurgery, Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan
  • Medical Degree: Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan

To bring the latest advances in minimally invasive spine surgery to University of Virginia Health System, Chun-Po Yen, MD, embarked on a journey that spanned continents and disciplines. Born in Taiwan, Yen first came to Charlottesville almost a decade ago as a research assistant professor in Gamma Knife radiosurgery, which uses radiation to treat brain tumors, vascular malformation and other neurological conditions. “It was valuable experience,” Yen says, “but I found that I wanted to do something that was more hands-on.”

Once he fulfilled his obligation to Kaohsiung Medical University, Yen returned to Charlottesville, where he was eventually offered a residency in neurosurgery. “I was especially interested in minimally invasive techniques that were being developed as an alternative to open surgery,” he says.

In 2015, the UVA neurosurgery department sent him to the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he completed a fellowship with Juan Uribe, MD, director of the Cahill Spine Institute and one of the leaders in the field of minimally invasive spine surgery. “One of the reasons that the Department of Neurosurgery at UVA is so highly rated is that we are always interested in mastering advances that might benefit our patients,” Yen says.

Yen joined the faculty at UVA this past July as an associate professor of neurosurgery. We spoke to him about the new techniques he is introducing.

Which patients might benefit from minimally invasive spine surgery?
Minimally invasive treatments are now being used for patients with degenerative spine disease, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, spinal deformities like scoliosis and kyphosis, spinal tumors and infection.

What are some of the advantages of this approach?
Minimally invasive techniques give us the opportunity to achieve results comparable to open surgery, but with less collateral damage associated with open approaches. Because the incisions can be smaller, there is less blood loss, reduced soft tissue damage, less postoperative pain and, consequently, less reliance on pain medications. All these add up to a faster, safer recovery.

Can you provide an example?
In patients with herniated lumbar discs, the discs can be removed through a tubular retractor and a small incision. Most of the patients can be discharged the same day as their surgery. In patients needing lumbar spinal fusion, a lateral approach to perform lumbar interbody fusion followed by placement of instrumentation through multiple small incisions is a valuable alternative to traditional posterior open surgeries.

As a surgeon, why were you drawn to this approach?
Because recovery time is so much shorter with minimally invasive spine surgery, you can see patients recover function rapidly, which is very gratifying. And the field is progressing at a very rapid rate. The technique has expanded its indications to treat adult spine deformities, which few others are treating with minimally invasive approaches. This is an exciting field attractive to both spine surgeons and patients alike. There is always something new to learn.

To arrange an in-office visit with Dr. Yen, please contact our Physician Relations team.