Implants ‘made of your own cells’ could end back pain
Neck and back pain often comes from progressive spinal disc damage. Traditional methods can only slow down the effects, but soon we may be seeing a better solution in the form of bio-engineered discs.
Intervertebral disc degeneration affects a significant number of people around the world and can hamper daily functions and quality of life.
Everyday wear and tear on healthy intervertebral discs can lead to disc degeneration, from which the patient begins to experience back or neck pain.
Current intervertebral disc degeneration treatments include disc replacement and spinal fusion surgery. These approaches, however, aren’t enough to restore full function in terms of mobility and function.
Today, researchers from Pennsylvania University’s Veterinary Medicine School, Applied Science and Engineering School, and School of Medicine are looking at creating bioengineered intervertebral discs out of a patient’s stem cells.
Stem cells are called ‘original cells’ as they can ‘differentiate’ or turn into specialized cells according to the body’s need and where they’re injected. Various linked and independent studies are looking at stem cells and its regenerative effects on common orthopaedic issues such as arthritis, knee problems, and sports injuries.
The Pennsylvania-based researchers have been working on bioengineered disc models, starting with lab studies and progressing to large animal studies during the last 15 years.
Co-senior author Professor Robert Mauck says that growing large discs in the lab, putting the disc in place and having surrounding tissue begin integration is a major phase in their project.
Mauck mentions that traditional care won’t actually restore the disc. The team hopes that in the future the engineered stem cell discs can replace the damaged sections and restore the patient’s full range of motion.
Success in Animal Studies
Before now, the researchers’ new discs called DAPS or Disc-like Angle Ply Structures, had been tested in rat tails spanning five weeks.
The current project sought to improve the engineered discs further. A new model called eDAPS, or endplate-modified DAPS, were again tested on rats for twenty weeks. The team highlighted that the improved disc replacement was able to integrate with surrounding tissue more easily and retained its shape better compared to its predecessor.
Also, researchers found through MRI scans and mechanical and in-depth tissue analyses that eDAPS was able to restore function and disc structure similar to that of the original models in rats.
Buoyed by the success, the Pennsylvania team moved to testing eDAPS in goats, where they implanted devices in their test subjects. The researchers chose goats as they have almost the same spinal disc dimension as ours. Moreover, goats stand in a semi-upright position, and the group reasoned that it’s the next evolution so the study could move on to humans.
The Pennsylvania research team also found success in their goat trials. Like the ones in mice, the eDAPS were well-integrated with surrounding tissue. Plus, mechanic function in the replaced discs surpassed the subject’s original cervical discs.
Co-senior author Dr. Harvey Smith mentions that it’s exciting that they have come this far, starting with mice and moving up to bigger, human-sized implants. The team is very optimistic that they could achieve the same success with mechanical devices and may even exceed that by using bio-engineered stem cells.
Despite the good news surrounding this field of research, the team is still a long way to getting their findings applied to human subjects.
First, they will need to conduct more tests and extensive trials on their current project on goats to try and gain a better understanding of how the eDAPS mechanism works.
The group also plans to map out the eDAPS model in relation to intervertebral disc degeneration in human patients, which should be very useful when the study proceeds to clinical trials.
Dr. Smith notes that the process of creating a biological device made out of your own supply of stem cells is very desirable. He further adds that the process of motion-preserving, true tissue-engineered replacement devices in arthroplasty is unprecedented in magnitude and something that hasn’t been done in the orthopaedic field.
In time and with due success, Dr. Smith says that the study could prove to be the paradigm shift that the medicinal industry needs to approach spinal diseases and injuries, as well as motion sparing through innovative reconstruction of joints.
To your health,
The Healing Miracle Team
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