Medical

Bioengineered spinal disc implants to combat back pain

Bioengineered spinal disc impl...
Researchers have created a biologically based spinal implant they say could someday provide relief for the millions of people suffering lower back and neck pain (Image: illuminator999 via Flickr)
Researchers have created a biologically based spinal implant they say could someday provide relief for the millions of people suffering lower back and neck pain (Image: illuminator999 via Flickr)
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Researchers have created a biologically based spinal implant they say could someday provide relief for the millions of people suffering lower back and neck pain (Image: illuminator999 via Flickr)
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Researchers have created a biologically based spinal implant they say could someday provide relief for the millions of people suffering lower back and neck pain (Image: illuminator999 via Flickr)

Researchers have created a biologically based spinal implant they say could someday provide relief for the millions of people suffering lower back and neck pain. Instead of removing damaged spinal discs - a surgery known as a discectomy - and fusing the vertebrate bones to stabilize the spine in patients diagnosed with severe degenerative disc disease, or herniated discs, the artificial discs could be used to replace damaged discs, performing better than current implants that are made from a combination of metal and plastic.

Although discectomies prevent pain, the often limit mobility. Human discs look something like a tire, with the outer part, called the annulus, made of a stiff material, and the inner circle, the nucleus, made of a gel-like substance that gets pressurized and bears weight.

To mimic this structure, engineers at Cornell University in Ithaca and doctors at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City engineered artificial discs out of two polymers - collagen, which wraps around the outside, and a hydrogel called alginate in the middle. They seeded the implants with cells that repopulate the structures with new tissue. Compared to artificial implants that degrade over time, the researchers found that the new implants get better as they mature in the body, due to the growth of the cells.

"Our implants have maintained 70 to 80 percent of initial disc height. In fact, the mechanical properties get better with time," says Lawrence Bonassar, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering at Cornell.

A surgical procedure approved by the FDA in 2005 for treating the degeneration of the intervertebral disc involves removing the damaged disc completely and replacing it with an implant made from a combination of metal and plastic, with the aim of mimicking the normal movement of the lumbar and the spine.

"Bone or metal or plastic implants are complicated structures which come with a mechanical risk of the structures moving around, or debris from the metal or plastic particles accumulating in the body from wear and tear," says Roger Härtl, M.D., associate professor of neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and chief of spinal surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Because the new discs integrate and mature with the vertebrae they would have a huge advantage over traditional implants, says Härtl, who is also the neurosurgeon for the New York Giants. This major surgery would also become less invasive, safer and come with fewer long-term side effects, he adds.

Bonassar and Härtl began collaborating on the project in 2006 and have since moved into the animal testing stages. The project has received a US$325,000 grant from Switzerland's AO Spine foundation and $100,000 in support from NFL charities. The research appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

16 comments
YukonJack
Yes!
Raymond Johnson
im curious, how does this picture represent this article, other than to demonstrate spinal flexability? Did this person actually get the implant?
Katia Luto
VIVISECTION is involved in this. A resounding \"NO\" to the ABUSE OF OUR ANIMAL KIN. Let the scientists investigate how lower back pain can be prevented and treated without abusing our fellow animals. Any of us with back/neck pain needs to follow a healthy vegan diet, lose weight if necessary, exercise, do yoga stretches, explore options such as postural techniques, the Alexander technique, chiropractic, osteopathy, hydrotherapy, etc etc. Vivisection on innocent sentient beings, who suffer pain and terror just as humans do, is an abomination. Thankfully, there is a rapidly-growing movement against it.
Lora Hubbel
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE I will be a guinea pig for a new disc (actually several of them!)
Bill Bennett
@ Katia, I am sorry, I am torn also, too many people just eat them, if they can help this condition, I am willing to let it go, I suffered a l3 l4 injury 20 years ago the pain was unbelievable, fortunately manipulation, exercise has fixed the problem, no surgery, back pain which have you have obviously never experienced is incapacitating, you CAN\"T MOVE picture yourself, stuck on the floor unable to move, you CAN\"T MOVE if you did you would SCREAM
Jay Lloyd
@Katia Where does it say they are testing on sentient animals? I thought the only animals that are sentient are great apes (chimps, orangutans, gorillas), some whales, porpoises and dolphins, and some squids. Are they doing testing on any of those? In this case, I define sentience as being self-aware, not merely intelligent.
Leong Hee Chan
I am glad there is such discoveries for potential solution for lower back and backbone problems. However there is now a cure developed by Hong Chi Xiao, a set of Stretching Exercises and Targeted Slapping on our bodies that have solved my severe lower back aches and Neck aches. These exercises are called La-Jin Therapy and Pai Da. If you Google it you can download these exercises. Hope your readers can benefit by reading this.
John Brigden
I suffer with back and leg pain every day. It has effected my life in a negative way for years. Most people don\'t believe you, they just don\'t understand. I have gone from a fit active able person, to someone that feels useless. At times I loose the use of my legs. I have no confidense in my body. The antiinflamitory drugs are wrecking whats left. The pain killers leave you unable to think straight. Who is going to tell me we don\'t need help? This is not one of the major deseases that see public sympathy and charity fund raisers or TV for that matter. Try a walk in my shoes. Thank you to the researchers. It may not help me, but it will help in the end. Now you just need to get doctors (GP\'s) to stop looking at people like me, as lasy not wanting to work people and get us the help we require. Good luck with that!
Myron J. Poltroonian
As someone with \"Compressed Discs\" from 20 years of playing guitar with a lot of female musicians and voluntarily carrying their amps, speaker cabinets, etc. and other assorted equipment up flights of stairs, I\'m all for this research, despite the fact that, at 70, I\'ll see little to no benefit from it directly. As to the model in the photograph? Now that\'s the centerpiece I want at my next birthday party - and everyone to follow.
JLR
I don\'t see anything in this article about vivisection. Sounds like a worthy medical advancement even if it does mean a few small furries need to give up their lies for it.